REDUCE is a research project, led by Consumption Research Norway at OsloMetropolitan University, that will look at plastics in a systems perspective and investigate how the consumption of plastic products in everyday life can be reduced.
The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers from the fields of design, sociology and history as well as a number of companies and organizations. It is funded by the Research Council of Norway. We will focus on three consumption areas where a lot of plastic is used: hygiene products, leisure products and products related to childhood, such as toys.
As is well known, the plastic we use the most is made from non-renewable carbon resources associated with large greenhouse gas emissions – namely oil. In addition, very little of the plastic we use is currently recyclable. Some plastics leak harmful chemicals and microplastics, and litter the landscape and the sea – therefore we must reduce its consumption.
At the same time, plastic is a marvelous material that can be used for almost anything, shaped and colored in an infinity of possibilities. In some products, plastic is by far the most suitable material, and will continue to be so for some time to come, until we find an alternative that can match its properties. These are not the products that are focused on in REDUCE.
Rather, the emphasis is on products where there already exist alternatives or where they can be developed. By looking at plastic from different perspectives related to consumers’ everyday lives, political regulations and processes, and product development – the project aims to identify barriers and opportunities to reduce plastic consumption in the future.
REDUCE targets three consumption areas 1) hygiene, 2) leisure, and 3) childhood. Products widely consumed within these areas cause waste problems, GHG emissions, toxins, microplastics, and threats to wildlife when ending up in nature. Acknowledging these challenges, REDUCE will propose and explore political, social and industrial measures to enable reduced consumption of plastics.
The project will produce knowledge about:
- how political framework conditions affect plastic consumption
- how plastic products are part of consumers’ everyday lives
- how the role of plastic has developed historically and what it means for consumption today
- innovation opportunities through (re) design of systems, products and services, future scenarios and Designerly Living Labs
REDUCE is divided into 6 parts defined as work packages (WP1-6). Each WP has its own leader, subtasks and deliverables. See the figure below for the project break down into work packages.
WP1 POLICIES & REGULATIONS
Leader: Dr. Harald Throne-Holst
How is the plastic problem framed in existing polices and regulations?
How can we reframe the plastic problem to facilitate policies and regulations contributing to better use of plastic materials and reduction of overall volumes?
In this work package we will do a discourse analysis of current relevant policies and regulations at both a national and international level, investigating how the production, distribution and consumption of plastic products is discussed and understood in environmental policy documents, and how framework conditions for reducing the consumption of plastics are influenced by various framings. Secondly, we will develop an analytical framework, inspired by previous efforts to address policy with foundations in social practice theory, to re-interpret and critically engage with case study examples. Following this, an analysis of insights and evidence from WP2 and 3 with a focus on how these can inform the work of reframing policies. Finally, we will arrange a workshop to discuss the outcomes of the two preceding steps with project partners. The aim of the workshop will be to discuss opportunities and barriers towards designing new policies. The results will feed into the work on future scenarios in WP4.
WP2 PLASTIC PRACTICES
Leader: Dr. Nina Heidenstrøm
How are plastic products integrated into the practices of hygiene, leisure and childhoods?
How are idealists, social media influencers, and activists succeeding to eliminate plastics from their everyday practices?
How has the historic trajectory of plastics as materials and products influenced current consumption practices?
We will research the role of plastics in practices of hygiene, leisure and childhood using materially centred methodologies, inspired by the SIFO-developed wardrobe studies and fridge studies, that are used to collect data on the means of acquisition, use and disposal of specific items. We develop these methods further by introducing participatory photography, asking 30 consumers (10 per case) in three age groups (20-45, 45-60, 60-80) to photograph their everyday plastic objects using mobile ethnography technology, and conduct 3 visual focus groups where the scope of plastics, and their functional, social, aesthetic and economic roles are discussed among the participants. We will conduct a further 3 focus groups with idealists, social media influencers and activists to identify plastic-free or plastic-reduced practices, comparing these to those of ordinary consumers. The data material will be used as input to create 9 (3 per case) object stories, to map out the historic trajectories of plastics, inspired by the narratives archaeologists, historians and curators produce about objects in order to interpret their function, meaning and forms of value within various contexts. The object stories will provide profound insights needed to develop alternative products, services and systems, as well as envisioning future scenarios of less plastics in leisure, hygiene and childhoods. To convey key results to feed into WP3, ahead of the completion of object stories, we will arrange a pop-up exhibition of visual materials from focus groups and a walk along session with participating researchers.
WP3 SYSTEMS ORIENTED DESIGN
Leader: Prof. Tore Gulden
WP3 builds on the results from WP 1-2 by incorporating and interpreting them as elements of systems – analysing barriers and opportunities for change through design. The PhD candidate in product design will conduct research in WP 3 and deliver a PhD thesis addressing these research questions:
What are the industrial, political, social and cultural barriers and opportunities for designing and redesigning systems, products and services to reduce plastic consumption?
How can we rethink products, services, and systems to reduce plastic consumption within leisure, hygiene and childhoods?
WP3 will commence with a workshop, in collaboration with WP2, exploring the relationships between plastic products, social practices and design – to grasp the role of plastic products within social practices of hygiene, leisure and childhood, and identify opportunities for design intervention. The workshop will involve social scientists and design researchers participating in the project, as well as invited scholars from other academic institutions. We will synthesize results and insights from WP 1-2 by visualizing 1-3 GIGA maps, a central method within SOD, which involves the visualization and analysis of systems. We will apply a co-design approach, gathering researchers, design students, project partners (all), and other relevant actors to elicit concepts and scenarios for problematizing sustainable consumption futures in two workshops. The PhD candidate as well as several master students in design will develop design concepts for alternative products, services and systems. WP3 will be connected with the master program Design in Complexity and the course Systems Oriented Design: Visualizing Complexity, which is a joint course between OsloMet and L’École de design Nantes Atlantique in France (EDNA).
WP4 FUTURE SCENARIOS
Leader: Prof. Sara Ilstedt
Participants: Dr. Karin Ehrnberger and all interested partners.
What are preferable future scenarios of less plastics in hygiene, leisure and childhood?
How can backcasting and norm-critical design be used to challenge the plastic norm and create scenarios for a plastic free life?
How can we study ways of transitioning towards less plastic intensive everyday practices through designerly living labs?
WP4 will build on results from WP1-3 to create 3 future scenarios incorporating new products, services and systems reducing plastic dependency. We will apply a triangulation of methods. Firstly, backcasting, the setting of a normative goal and a step by step plan on how to reach the goal, for example staging a life with no plastic. Secondly, norm-critical design, creation of discursive “design things”, that is, products, services and scenarios that challenge the plastic norm and show alternative ways to perform everyday tasks, which will raise awareness of plastic in everyday life; thirdly, Designerly living labs, a real life prototype of a normative solution to explore these products, services and systems in everyday life during a longer period of time. The scenarios are made visual and tangible through the production of physical prototypes, installations, films, and other means of communication and visualisation. The tangibles will be exhibited at a REDUCE exhibition at DOGA in Oslo and at a suitable venue in Stockholm.
WP5 DISSEMINATION & COMMUNICATION
Leader: Marianne Heggenhougen
All partners will contribute to disseminate results through their own channels.
WP5 coordinates the dissemination activities of REDUCE. LOOP has extensive experience in dissemination activities and a wide network of stakeholders and followers. We will maximise project impact through a mixed dissemination approach including both academic and popular outputs. A project web site will be established year 1 and continuously updated with project activities, results and publications. Furthermore, the website sortere.no (operated by LOOP) will be central in the online dissemination of REDUCE. All partners will also communicate project result through their online presence and social media accounts.
WP6 ADMINISTRATION & COORDINATION
Project manager Dr. Marie Hebrok
WP6 attends to the general management, administration and coordination of the project related to internal project communication, external and internal reporting, and meetings. WP 6 will ensure consistent communication between academic and industry partners through digital and analogue co-work meetings with group discussions and presentation of project results.