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Santa Ramaherison is a Paris and London based Malagasy design-researcher interested in biodesign, social design and sustainable innovation. Coming from a BA in Product Design at ENSAAMA (Paris), he then pursued a MA Material Futures to focus on design research and sustainable innovation. Working at the intersection of design, science, and technology, his works reflect on issues around climate change’s present and future impacts, through the design of systems and products as tools for positive change.

A drop in the ocean

Due to humans constant search for comfort and the overuse of finite resources, marine and terrestrial ecosystems around the world are suffering from different industries made only for human needs. Ecosystems are destroyed (i.e deforestation) or struggling to survive (ocean acidification, coral bleaching).

The root of the problem being the overuse of fossil fuels, and overproduction. How can we stop industries from producing more and using these finite materials? Would a single person have enough power to reduce or stop these doings ?

The little exercise in individual self-limitation could have revolutionary implications if it were transferred to people around the world – regardless of their origin or social status.

-Tools for the Design Revolution, Institute of Design Research Vienna, 2014

I chose to research on solutions around one of the least explored areas of study these last years: ocean acidification (OA). Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean is causing a lowering of the ocean’s pH, which means that the ocean’s chemistry is changing.

Pre-Industrialisation pH value of the Ocean water 8.179. Current pH value of Ocean water 8.069 (increase of 28.8% in the H+ unions since the industrialization of the 18th century)

Considered the “evil twin of climate change”, its effects are still mostly impacting marine life - not humans. However, communities relying on the fish industry are already seeing the negative impacts, as we can see in Madagascar or other vulnerable countries (coupled with coral bleaching, an effect of global warming). As I researched the problem and what my role as a designer could be in this global issue, I started researching specific places where it’s happening, but as I stated before, the research field is still at an early stage (from a scientific and ecological point of view) so researchers cannot find specific places where OA is happening yet.

Biodegrading packaging on a seashore

So far, there are not a lot of solutions emerging, since a lot of research centres are still at the stage of understanding OA, using artificial devices replicating oceanic conditions, called mesocosms.

The problem with environmental solving facilities or innovations (such as Ocean NETs) is that they often need expensive funding, space, and trust from governments or local councils. Secondly, these are just one part of the solution, they are what we could call mitigating solutions, but these cannot solve the problems oceans are facing alone. The biggest game changer would be, in fact, the reduction of anthropogenic emissions, which means cutting down on plastic production, fossil fuels use for transportation, slowing down intensive agricultural practices, stopping coal mining, replacing CO2 emitting construction materials, etc.

How can we bring the public to even get interested in issues related to an ecosystem which is not theirs?

All of these are linked to individual consumer behavior, policymaking, and industry practices. Therefore, my role as a designer would not be to engineer new Carbon Capture facilities or other expensive devices to mitigate OA, but educate people about the issue, while partially mitigating the seas acidification.

How can we empower people in the deacidification of the oceans through waste-consumer behavior ?

Expanded polystyrene is the leading form of marine litter from ocean and coastal aquaculture activities, but there are currently no global estimates for the amounts of marine plastic litter generated from this sector.

I thus chose to redesign takeaway packaging, which are often seen on beaches, carelessly left by people there. Three issues are thus tackled through this simple object redesign:

  • reduction of harmful marine litter
  • cutting down the production of plastic packagings
  • partial mitigation of OA through mineral weathering (through the use of Oyster shells as core material)

To achieve the design of this new takeaway packaging, I explored different materials used in chemical weathering first:

  • quicklime: acts as an alkaline mineral, but extremely energy intensive to produce, and might warm waters, which could harm the ecosystem if used at a large scale.
  • olivine sand: acts as an alkaline mineral, found around volcanic places, and sequesters CO2 when reacting to water. The only drawback is that it needs to be extracted from mines to be used, but at least the CO2 emitted from the extraction is negated by the use of olivine itself (CO2 sequestration by olivine > CO2 emitted from olivine mining)
  • calcium carbonate : acts as a buffer in seawaters by sticking ions to CaCo3 particles, found in most marine species and seashells. The interesting part is that it is also found in Oyster shells and mussel shells, which means that it could be taken from Oyster farms or producers, not needing to mine anything, which makes the process circular and sustainable.

As a binder, I tried using seaweed which makes a really clean surface, and a quite light material for something mineral and rocky like.

Oyster shell powder, naturally captures CO2 when spread in the sea, and Olivine sand, naturally absorbs CO2 when left in the sea.

A key aspect of this project is the communication of the issue through the artefacts and events around the objects made for it. So how can we summarize an issue so complex and invisible to the eye? How can we bring the public to even get interested in issues related to an ecosystem which is not theirs? (Oceans, as I mentioned before are the least explored subjects in ecology when compared to terrestrial ecosystems).

If the 7.87 billion people on Earth started using this packaging… we could probably act as a giant deacidifying facility all around the world.

By giving people an object they already use in their life, they relate directly to the scenario and use of this object, the different significances the object has, which is here waste, production, plastic (or fossil fuel materials) and consumerism. When using this packaging, people are also interested in what makes it different from the traditional packaging, thus making it also an object of interaction, giving me the opportunity to explain the issue, and the benefits of the material.

If the 7.87 billion people on Earth started using this packaging as much as people use traditional polystyrene packaging, we could probably act as a giant deacidifying facility all around the world.

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