Waste Age: AMRA Design Museum trip and research cafe

On Saturday 19th February 2022, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Research Association (AMRA) visited the “Waste Age: What can design do?” exhibition at the Design Museum in Kensington, London. This exhibition explores the pressing issue of waste and its impact on the planet, whilst offering innovative and novel means for tackling such issues. Bringing together some of the leading researchers and designers in the field of sustainable waste, this exhibition seeks to raise awareness and shed light on the urgent need for radically changing our behaviour to prevent further devastation. The trip also served as a conversation starter for Khuddam and Atfal to start living more sustainably in accordance with the Holy Quran and the subsequent guidance given by Huzoor Aqdas (aba) recently on reducing our carbon footprint.

Entering the exhibition space, AMRA members were surprised to learn the scale of plastic waste from a ‘bottle-top chain’ exhibit – a wall display of 6,600 bottle caps collected from just a single winter period at a beach in Cornwall. However, plastic waste makes up only 12% of the global waste composition as listed one of the exhibition walls, the other major waste types being ‘food and green’ and ‘paper and cardboard’. Another exhibit illustrated the kinds of waste we throw away such as ‘on-the-go’ lunch packaging, wet wipes, takeaway cups, clothing, cleaning product spray bottles. iPhones, a VW Beetle, and microchips were ‘deconstructed’ to show the amount of raw material that goes into each item.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. AMRA members learned of new biodegradable materials such as an architectural wall prototype made of calcium carbonate and bagasse waste, which are by-products of the sugar-refining process. Waste is also being creatively re-used to make familiar products, such as a 3D printed chair made using plastic from discarded fridges. There were burgers made from food waste, and apparently this could be the future of fast food. However, if we simply followed the Holy Prophet’s (saw) advice on leaving three mouthfuls spare at each meal, we may not have to resort to such measures. These were a few examples of the principle of a ‘circular economy’, a system where products and materials are constantly reused as opposed to the “make-take-waste” system that currently prevails.

After the exhibition, AMRA members went to a local restaurant to dwell and discuss the issues raised within the exhibition. Ahsan Khan Sahib, a design consultant and co-founder of Climate Labs, gave a thought-provoking talk on sustainable futures by taking a systems approach. Ahsan Sahib began with ‘biomimicry‘, which is the notion of looking towards nature for design principles, an example being modern day bullet trains which were inspired by a Kingfisher’s beak. The topic of ‘biophilia’ was also discussed, with the concept being that we are all part of nature and connecting with it has quantified therapeutic effects.

Ahsan Sahib then presented on ‘Doughnut Economics’, which is a framework for sustainable development that states our economy cannot be uncoupled from social justice and ecological well-being. Essentially, to achieve and maintain a sustainable future, society needs to recognize and stay within its boundaries. Here, Ahsan Sahib cited a Quranic verse which talks about eating and drinking within limits –  ”and eat and drink without going to excesses. For Allah does not like those who go to excess” (Chapter 7, Verse 32).  This was followed by a stimulating discussion, with participants exchanging ideas on how we can move society can move towards these circular economies starting with ourselves as Ahmadi Muslims, taking on that responsibility in our personal lives as well as the way we hold Khuddam and Atfal events.

Ahsan Sahib cited several references throughout the talk which are listed below:

  • Sign on Earth, Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis by Fazlun M Khalid
  • Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth
  • Designs for the Pluriverse, Arturo Escobar
  • First Things First 1964 Manifesto, Ken Garland
  • Design for the real world, Victor Papanek
  • The Green Imperative, Victor Papanek

The event was thoroughly enjoyable and a welcome return to physical gatherings as we return to a sense of normality amidst the Covid pandemic, and the department will be organising similar programmes throughout the year.