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How Ikea and HP want to help keep plastic out of the ocean

If you buy an ink cartridge from HP, some of the plastic might have come from bottles collected on streets and canals in Port-au-Prince, Haiti–intercepted before they could end up in the ocean. Since 2017, the company has worked with local collectors to gather more than half a million pounds of plastic in the area, keeping around 12 million plastic bottles out of the Caribbean.

It’s one of a growing number of companies incorporating ocean-bound plastic into its supply chain. Today, HP announced that it is joining a coalition of those companies called NextWave Plastics, founded by Dell and the nonprofit Lonely Whale last year. Ikea also joined today, and plans to make its first prototypes out of ocean-bound plastic by the end of 2019.

“Everybody needs to step up [to solve the problem of ocean plastic], including business, and I see no reason why business shouldn’t be leading,” says Ellen Jackowski, global head of sustainability strategy and innovation for HP.
[Photo: HP]

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year, or the equivalent of a garbage-truck-size load every minute. One piece of the solution is, obviously, putting less plastic on the market; earlier this year, Ikea committed to phasing out the single-use plastic items that it sells by 2020. But it’s equally important to find ways to capture the flow of plastic entering oceans now, particularly in China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, which dump more plastic waste into the sea than the rest of the world combined.

HP began working in Haiti in partnership with Thread, a company that works to turn plastic bottles into a material that brands like Timberland have used for making clothing and shoes. The process brings fairly paid jobs to the area and helps compensate for the lack of municipal recycling.

[Photo: HP]

This plastic, like the plastic that flows to the ocean in countries like Vietnam, can be challenging to work with, says Jackowski. “Most of the waste just lands on the ground,” she says. “It makes its way into canals and out into the ocean. It’s sitting outside in the elements. It’s filled with mud, there’s salty air, lots of sand–very different properties compared to what you might buy, for example, off the American recycled plastic market.” HP now plans to share what it has learned about how to work with the material in its supply chain with other companies in the NextWave coalition, such as Ikea, which is just beginning to explore how it might use ocean-bound plastics.
[Photo: Shawn Heinrick]

“We want to make sure that we test it all the way to make sure that it actually works, and not just look at the potential,” says Lena Pripp Kovac, sustainability manager, Inter IKEA Group. Ikea’s new prototypes will go through its standard design process. “It goes through all the steps–whether you can source it, whether the designer can use it, whether it fits all of our democratic design principles. That’s what we want to test.”

Other companies in the coalition have used plastic headed for the ocean, or plastic already in the ocean, in products from skateboards to carpet tiles. Humanscale recycled old fishing nets from the ocean into an office chair.

“The key is for us as a society to see plastic as value, not as waste. Today everybody sees it as waste. How do we drive enough demand that people see plastic as value and not something that you want to throw away?” says Jackowski. “Plastic’s a pretty amazing material. We’ve gotten a little carried away with it. So how do we put in the right processes in place in our society so that there’s enough value that we continue to reuse it rather than create more?”

About five years ago, I started looking for a new timer to use in my design workshops for business executives. I’d used a watch up until then and communicated time to participants like, “we’ll stop at 2:35,” or “five minutes starting now . . . one minute . . . okay we’re almost done, so wrap up your current concepts . . . okay, let’s wrap up . . . okay, let’s quiet down and share.” Repeatedly asking enthusiastic CEOs to put down their Sharpies just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted everyone to be on the same page about how much time remained on a given exercise–something with a definitive end and something that would spatially display time to concretely communicate an otherwise squishy concept.

Then I came across the device that would quickly become my most valued design tool: the Time Timer. It was love at first sight. In a life surrounded by feature-packed, overly designed gizmos begging for my attention every moment of every day, the Time Timer was the most earnestly designed object I’d ever seen. It’s one of those objects that is so simple, it’s easy to think that it wasn’t even designed at all, that it just exists because that’s what it was meant to be. It’s even called the Time Timer! It didn’t have some cute monosyllabic meaningless name. It is exactly what it is, a time timer, and it is perfect.

I use an 8-inch timer for my workshops, I have a little one in my kitchen, and I have a 12-inch timer on the wall right next to my monitor in my office. It keeps me on track. Why do these work so well? It all comes down to its physicality.
[Photo: Time Timer]
Externalized understanding

One of the most important aspects of the design process is externalizing abstract thoughts or ideas. We sketch things out, we put them in experience maps and service blueprints, and we build prototypes to make these abstract things concrete. When the abstract is made physical, we can think through the details of how they work, but we also are able to share that understanding with the other people in the room. Everyone is considering the same information, and there’s less room for interpretation. The Time Timer works in the exact same way; it’s physical and external, everyone is getting the exact same information at the same time.
[Photo: Time Timer]
Data to information

In addition to the shared consensus of the timer being external, the spatial representation of time makes shared understanding clearer and more immediate. Generally when you look at a clock, you do some calculations. The clock will tell you what time it is, and then you compare that time to a predefined event. For example, you’ve got a meeting at 10:15. You look at the clock and it’s 9:38–you then subtract 9:38 from 10:15 and you find that you have 37 minutes until your meeting. When time is displayed spatially, there’s no math. You glance over at the timer, and you immediately understand how much time is left; it’s faster, and there’s less cognitive load.
[Photo: Time Timer]
Soft awareness

One of the biggest advantages of a spatial display of time is that it allows you have a peripheral awareness of the time. When you’re working on things that require higher-order thought, such as writing code, or thinking through a complex design process, you’re holding a lot of things in your head. Looking at the clock and doing base-60 subtraction will immediately snap you out of this thought process. I think of the large timer next to my desk as a “big red blob” that I can keep an eye on without having to divert my attention from the task at hand.

Time Timer is catching on in human-centered design circles. It was featured in Jake Knapp’s book Sprint, and subsequently included in Google Ventures’ Sprint Kit. More recently it showed up in Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky’s great new book Make Time. For the book, they actually partnered with Time Timer to make a special 120-minute Make Time Edition Time Timer, which is the designer equivalent of getting a shoe deal with Nike. I recommend checking out the new book, and strategically placing time timers in every room of your studio.
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