Is there a world beyond plastic? by Catinca Tilea

“Plastic Ocean” by Tan Zi Xi. Photo credits © Verve Magazine;   visit website

“Plastic Ocean” by Tan Zi Xi. Photo credits © Verve Magazine; visit website

We had quite a few setbacks recently. This is never easy so, in between things, I had to remind myself why I wanted to do this study in the first place. Why all this search?

For the installation “Plastic Ocean” artist Tan Zi Xi gathered a significant amount of plastic that was drifting in ocean waters. After cleaning it up, she compiled this work for the Singapore Art Museum. This artwork illustrates a tremendous abundance of objects from all categories of domestic life hanging on top of our heads like a strange weight.

There is so much plastic around that we could build giant monuments with it. Our economies depend on it. Our comfort is built on plastics: drainage systems are plastic, our food travels the world for cheap because of plastic packaging, our devices are light and easy to produce because of plastic etc.. Plastic supports our current lifestyles. Take away plastic and you'd take away most of our current pleasures. Imagining a functional world without plastic right now seems impossible. However, I dare you to try: what would the world be without plastic?

There once was such a world, right after the industrial revolution. At the time, a handful of scientists and inventors were only discovering the first plastics ever. While the first standardized products ever were taking shape, no one could even imagine yet how plastic will ever serve the world.

Maybe we have the same problem now. As our world is challenged by what post-industrial automation brings along we have a hard time looking outside of our reality. Just how our fellow humans couldn't imagine the world beyond custom made services and handcrafted objects in the beginning of the 20th century, we cannot imagine a world without cheap and disposable products.

I started this study because I'd like to try to look outside this pattern.

Plastic is our recent history; a history that is very hard to index at the moment. But this only spans from the 1950s onward when PET was first adapted for mass production. Ever since then the presence of plastics everywhere came to be known as the success story of our civilised world. Yet now, when we have huge difficulties administering this story's consequences, plastic starts to look more like Tan Zi Xi's work rather than the extension of the modern human. We still linger on the 1950s' image of abundance. It's time to move on, don't you think?

HOW to... by Catinca Tilea

We're still patiently searching for this answer, so we will not reveal here how you can turn your HOW into a material. Not just yet, in any case!

Meanwhile, I want to share this one step forward, see the pictures below. It's a small step but it really feels like a whole new world to us. The search for a HOW bio-conversion recipe that can be done in home conditions is sometimes a heavy hearted process. Not everything works and we don't always have new ideas. So when we get something right, it's like a party!

The pictures on the left are taken on the 12th of July, when this HOW batch was inoculated. The picture on the right is from today. Look at how much these fellows have been developing (said I, like a proud parent :-)!

Next step is to bury half of these little guys into a ground. It's bio-degradation time. Wondering how long it'll take until they're gone? Me tooooo!

 
12 July ‘19

12 July ‘19

12 July ‘19

12 July ‘19

12 August ‘19

12 August ‘19

Dried HOW smells like cigars by Catinca Tilea

HOW (household organic waste) is definitely an interesting material! And as we are trying all sorts of things with it, we are discovering new things every day.

So far we tried to experiment with a little bit of everything that HOW may contain: remains of products that are rich in carbohydrates, meat, fruit, veggies, remains of cooked food, you name it. We normally bring HOW to a dry state to work with it.

In the previous post I took you through the smells of our processes. Here's one more such sensory experience. Have you ever been to a tobacco farm? Because dry HOW feels a lot like tobacco leaves drying. But ok, say you've never visited a tobacco farm. Here's something closer to urban life: the touch, feel and smell of rolling tobacco. That's a bit what dry HOW feels like: fibery, just a tiny bit moist, and smelling like cigars in a box.

 
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Who's afraid of HOW's smell? by Catinca Tilea

I need to debunk some myths: HOW smells much better than you imagine; it's not what you think!

Before we started this research we had a proof-of-concept phase in which we fooled around with different bio-processes just to see what suits this study. Many pre-experiments took their own turn instead of ours (it doesn't always turn up well, ya' know). It was then when I dealt with some funky perfumes, if you know what I mean! And it was also then when I developed what I call “a smell anxiety”. Smell anxiety means that once you know you are (or will be) in front of waste, you already imagine terrible smells and you start to make gross associations. As I bet most of you get smell anxiety as well at least at times when you see and read my posts, I must walk you through the scents palette of our HOW research, step by step.

 

Is fresh HOW all that fresh?!

Fresh HOW means for us HOW that's been gathered no longer than 3-4 days ago. You probably think: but fresh HOW is already old food. Yeah, but when you add 3-4 days to natural decay not that much changes.  And as we chop HOW when it arrives in the lab to speed up fermentation, all its inner juices come out. Remember, decaying still only happens on the outer layers at this time. So chopped HOW smells more like greens, fruit, veggie... whatever you have in there. Fresh HOW smells quite fresh I must say!

Fresh HOW means for us HOW that's been gathered no longer than 3-4 days ago. You probably think: but fresh HOW is already old food. Yeah, but when you add 3-4 days to natural decay not that much changes.

And as we chop HOW when it arrives in the lab to speed up fermentation, all its inner juices come out. Remember, decaying still only happens on the outer layers at this time. So chopped HOW smells more like greens, fruit, veggie... whatever you have in there. Fresh HOW smells quite fresh I must say!

Where's that smell of pickles coming from?

If you ever fermented HOW with bokashi starter you already know it. The garbage juice that gets released through this anaerobic fermentation is also a great natural fertiliser and non-chemical sewage declogger. But most importantly, fermented HOW and its garbage juice smell like pickles. That's right, like augurkens.

If you ever fermented HOW with bokashi starter you already know it. The garbage juice that gets released through this anaerobic fermentation is also a great natural fertiliser and non-chemical sewage declogger. But most importantly, fermented HOW and its garbage juice smell like pickles. That's right, like augurkens.

Fibre got baked

Imagine you take something pickled and you cook it in the oven. Or imagine the smell of dried and seasoned fruit peel, like mango peel for instance. Imagine its sweetness, baked. And now imagine its been also pickled and baked. That's what incubated HOW smells like. And if you think of it, it is all sorts of peels dried, pickled and baked.

Imagine you take something pickled and you cook it in the oven. Or imagine the smell of dried and seasoned fruit peel, like mango peel for instance. Imagine its sweetness, baked. And now imagine its been also pickled and baked. That's what incubated HOW smells like. And if you think of it, it is all sorts of peels dried, pickled and baked.

Wet leaves on the forest floor after the rain

If you close your eyes and remember the last time you took a walk in the woods after the rain, then you got it, it's that smell: a bit moist and mouldy. When we put deactivated HOW to bind with mycelium, we moisturise it a bit because moulds like to grow in wet environments. The smell that comes out in this mix is really just like that of the forest floor, but then in the lab ;)

If you close your eyes and remember the last time you took a walk in the woods after the rain, then you got it, it's that smell: a bit moist and mouldy. When we put deactivated HOW to bind with mycelium, we moisturise it a bit because moulds like to grow in wet environments. The smell that comes out in this mix is really just like that of the forest floor, but then in the lab ;)

Some time ago… by Catinca Tilea

Some time ago we've started with a test batch just to see how the theory works in practice. We fermented HOW in four different ways. We deactivated the fermentation (bokashi) bacteria. And we tried to grow mycelium on the results. After quite a few failed experiments and hurt feelings, we’ve got the first sample to bind with mycelium. I am extremely happy to share the development of this sample.

 
 
We started here, cutting the HOW into tiny pieces

We started here, cutting the HOW into tiny pieces

 
We fermented the HOW in different forms

We fermented the HOW in different forms

This grew between 19 June - 1st July

This grew between 19 June - 1st July