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Circular Podcast with Seetal Solanki

In the third episode of Series 01, Katie Treggiden is in conversation with designer, author and educator Seetal Solanki. They talk about the embodied learnings of thrift and reuse we inherit from our parents, why we need to stop using the term ‘waste’ altogether, the decolonisation of the language around materials, and how we can build bridges between the Global North and the Global South.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m Katie Treggiden and this is Circular, a podcast exploring the intersection of craft, design and sustainability. Join me as I talk to the thinkers, doers and makers of the circular economy. These are the people who are challenging the linear take make waste model of production and consumption and working towards something better. In this series, we’re talking about waste.

Seetal Solanki 

I think it’s really important to build something based on values rather than just product. Otherwise, we just end up with a very linear system that isn’t inclusive of these complexities, or systems, or that actually takes into account leftovers, or these ideas of value and respect. It feels a bit more human centric than it does planet centric, and I think value systems offer a completely different perspective with one that is more inclusive.

Katie Treggiden 

If you think about it, everything is made of a material of some sort, so in some ways it’s an obvious thing to specialise in. But in fact, most people take materials for granted to such an extent that they barely notice them at all. Seetal Solanki is a translator of materials and wants to change that. She is the founder and director of Ma-tt-er, a relational practice focused on building and bridging kinships between people, materials, the immaterial, and the virtual. Her work at Ma-tt-er reorientates mindsets, behaviours and mechanisms towards futures that are caring and respectful, by providing ecological and nuanced strategies that are biodiverse, inclusive and responsible. And she hyphenates the word responsible to emphasise our ability to respond. Author of ‘Why Materials Matter’ and a textiles tutor at the Royal College of Art London, she was made an Honorary Fellow at Hereford College of Arts and received her fellowship at the RCA in 2018. She holds an MA in Textiles Futures from Central Saint Martins, and she’s worked with Potato Head Bali, Nike, Google, World Water Day, IKEA’s Space 10, The British Council, The Design Museum, and her work has been featured all over the world. She’s also one of the cleverest people I know.

Katie Treggiden 

Why don’t we start at the beginning – tell me about the roles that design, creativity and specifically materials and waste played in your childhood and early life?

Seetal Solanki 

So many. So if I could say, as early as I can remember, I mean, I started cooking at the age of five. So really, really long time ago. It’s always been a method, paying respect to materials has always been present in my family and my upbringing. So, when I talk about materials, in that regard, it’s more to do with, like, how valuable everything is around us and what we use and how we use it and what its purpose is, and what its benefits are. And that can be through food. Same thing, and I learned a lot through cooking. I learned a lot through observing my mum cooking and I think these sorts of little almost kitchen hacks that she has, in terms of say, like, you opened a tin of tomatoes, and you have this residue left over, right? So you would rinse that underneath the tap, and you just swirl it around, and then you would put that residue back into the dish. And therefore there’s not only is it good for recycling afterwards, because you’ve cleaned it, but also, you’ve understood the value which the residue has for the, you know, the dish itself, or whatever it is you’re cooking. And all these sorts of little tricks that she taught us unknowingly, that they were actually part of this sort of philosophy of everything is valuable. And you have to respect it and care for it in a way that you treat it as equal to yourself. And even if she would cook a dish and we as a family of six, we couldn’t like finish it, and there were leftovers behind, she would place it into the fridge for you know, like leftovers for the next day, but the next day she would completely transform it into an entirely new dish and that was unrecognisable from the day before. So, this almost idea of renewal or reuse is what we call it now I guess, but it was just leftovers. That for us, you know, it was just a new dish.

Katie Treggiden 

But respecting those leftovers enough not just to serve them cold in a sort of lesser dish than yesterday’s, but actually to give it new life, so it was just as delicious as the meal the day before.

Seetal Solanki 

Completely and also that’s not only healthier because you’ve killed the bacteria and what have you. It’s actually valuing the fact that it has another life as well. And I think all of these sorts of principles were instilled in me from a very early age, and have actually translated into my practice, without knowing that it has been part of like, sustainability, or reuse, or recycle, or all these different terms that are very present in our daily lives now, but actually, it’s just the philosophy of care and respect ultimately. I think, yeah, I think that has paid a really huge role in what my value systems are as a person and also as a professional. Because I think that those informal learnings have also informed my formal learnings as you know, a practitioner, designer. So they have almost converged in my practice now, and are coexisting in this body of work that I’m producing, like working within, like an ecosystem in itself. So informality and formality,  and those forms of learnings are really important to me, as a practitioner and person actually, because I think these days it’s, I think it’s really important to build something based on values rather than just product. I think, otherwise, we just end up with a very linear system that isn’t inclusive of these complexities or systems, or that actually take into account leftovers, or these ideas of value and respect. It feels a bit more human centric than it does planet centric and I think value systems offer a completely different perspective with one that is more inclusive, I think.

Katie Treggiden 

And I think those subconscious behaviours like swilling out the tomato can, speak to values don’t they? That’s something that’s absolutely written through the DNA of the way your mum treated food and I think there’s a real authenticity on something that’s based on value systems, rather than, as you say, on products. So you’ve talked a little bit about how those values that your mum instilled in you from a young age have sort of led into your practice as a professional – tell me about how the materials research, design studio, and consultancy Ma-tt-er, that you established in 2015, came into being?

Seetal Solanki 

Yeah, so this has been a long journey and a journey which has taken me the best part of 13 years of being in my career before even getting to the point of launching it in 2015. So, I worked across so many different industries, and sectors and disciplines. And so many experiences have led me to see what linkages there are and what connections there are between all of those sectors and industries and disciplines and people even actually, and methods and principles, and ultimately, everything was connected through materials. And throughout those 13 years of experience working in fashion or automotive or architecture, or interactive lighting installations or you know, like even lifestyle brands, or trend forecasting, and all sorts of things, styling even, I’ve had so many lives previous to Ma-tt-er, it’s kind of allowed me to sort of zoom out and think what actually what was connecting them all together and the connection has definitely been material as the conduit. And they have provided the glue to my whole existence I think. If I think about it as my life but throughout my work experience, nobody would ever really consider materials as their, you know, first point of call within their design sort of method. So like materials would be something that would be added on towards the end of the design and it was something that was perhaps an afterthought I would say a lot of the time, and that would be really quite tragic in some cases, because the material was secondary. And for the material to be secondary wouldn’t really be understood and wouldn’t behave in a way that they might have wanted it to behave. And therefore its purpose or the potential of that material, it hadn’t reached its potential, basically. And with that in mind, it’s also very wasteful, because it hadn’t reached its potential. It wouldn’t behave in the way that they intended it to, they would then maybe use something else. You know, there would just be this sort of disconnection between the material and the design process and the human actually. So this sort of lack of relationality, or lack of respect, I think, as well, or lack of knowledge even, really frustrated me.

Seetal Solanki 

Ultimately, my whole practice is built on frustration, I would say. And this frustration has only been motivating for me, because not only have I as a textile design been misunderstood, because I think textile designers definitely are, because we kind of exist in this ‘No Man’s Land’ of either just making textiles for fashion or, you know, the perceived view of textile designers are we make textiles for fashion, or we make textiles for interiors, and actually there’s so many other things that textiles can do. And I definitely was questioning that throughout my whole career and still am, I think. And I don’t think that question will ever end for me, and I don’t think it will end for society. Materials are just so much more advanced than we are – we will never get to understand them completely. And new materials are always emerging, so our relationship to materials is one of extraction and one of using it as a resource, rather than one that we begin to understand it and relate to it. And so Ma-tt-er has been built on those misconceptions or misunderstandings and I want to bring more awareness or consciousness to what materials can do because they’re way more intelligent than we are. We need to understand them not only as designers, but as people in general, because materials have kind of existed in expertise, sciences, and also academia. And there’s incredible work going on in those spaces for sure and I’m definitely respectful of that. And parts of it as well, you know, but materials haven’t been accessible to the majority of people because it’s lying within expertise. But everybody uses a material, everybody interacts with the material all day, every day. Even if you’re sleeping, you’re interacting with materials. Even, you know, you’re brushing your teeth, there’s a material present, like all the time. And this is related to our consumption habits, our behaviours, our mindsets, even how we treat things, how we consume things, how we dispose of things. So, if we have a disconnection to materials, then we don’t understand what role they play in our lives. And this is something that needs to be addressed in an accessible and relatable way and that’s exactly what I do in my practice. So the idea of humanising materials is a really big drive, I would say. So what I mean by humanising is making them relatable. So rather than perceiving the material, as it’s, you know, currently categorised is words: metal, and plastic, and glass and these kinds of things. It needs to be understood for, what its behaviours and characteristics are. So it’s emotional sort of qualities, and then it’s functional quality. So what it can do, and that’s how we understand each other and that’s how we understand what we want to also design. So, we understand, like, we want to design understanding how something functions and feels. So if we understand the materials in the same way, we can then implement materials at the very forefront of everything that we do. So that’s something that I’m readdressing every time I have a project or even internal research that we’re doing, but ultimately it’s making materials more accessible and relatable in order for mindsets, behaviours and systems to change.

Katie Treggiden 

And I think one of the ways you’ve done that – you sort of talk about making materials, more human and more accessible – and I think one of the brilliant ways you’ve done that is through your book, ‘Why Materials Matter.’ For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a thing of beauty. It’s a huge hardback, almost neon mint green tome. It’s wonderful. And it’s bursting with, well, materiality, I suppose. It even smells amazing. And my copy was second hand, so I was very impressed with that. The book subtitle is ‘Responsible design for a better world,’ so I guess my question is twofold: why do materials matter? And why is an understanding of materials so crucial for today’s designers, who are hopefully trying to design a better world in a more responsible way? And you’ve started to touch on that, but I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit?

Seetal Solanki 

Yeah, sure. Well, the fact that everybody has an interaction with a material, whether it’s through habits, behaviours, or daily functions, it’s based on consumption. This idea of consumption is always present in our lives, whatever we’re doing, whether it’s consuming data, or whether it’s consuming knowledge, or whether it’s consuming food, it’s like these very sort of behavioural sort of tasks we have in our daily lives. They’re all very material.

Seetal Solanki 

So materials have kind of been very limited. Previously, I think, because we’ve just framed them in these very sort of strict categories, and very sort of tight categories, where only experts – if you know what the material can do, you can therefore understand where to look for them. So you know how materials libraries are categorised, like textiles are just kind of put into one box, but actually, textiles are made from so many things, like so many things. How can you begin to understand what these textiles can do and where they’ve come from, like, have that kind of connection or relationship to it? And this is really problematic, because then these materials are kind of discriminated against, actually. I call it material discrimination because these materials haven’t reached their potential. And that’s a real shame. I’m like, well, that’s a real shame and also really unfair. There’s like an injustice happening with materials. And there’s an injustice to material designers, sometimes I think, but even though now we’re seeing a surge, and a real interest in material designers, I think, and I just don’t want that to be something that’s the trend or a fleeting trend. And I hope that’s something that’s here to stay, but I wouldn’t even call them material designers. They’re just designers that happened to work with materials. All designers work materials, regardless. And so I don’t necessarily think there should be a separate category for material designers. If that makes sense. I think design should just be very inclusive of materials. So, I mean, right now we’re seeing that title merging. Emerging should I say, but I don’t think that will last too long. I think it should just be like, under one umbrella. And that’s totally fine. But this idea of, yeah, I think, these limitations that have been placed on materials, and they’re not reaching their full potential, that’s because it’s, it’s lying with expertise and not accessible. It’s not only the categorisation, but it’s also because we haven’t really understood the depth and the breadth that materials can offer. It’s like bacteria as a material, that’s something that I’ve written about in the book, or whether it’s water as a material, that’s something more abstract, or, you know, whether it’s digital materials even. I think like looking at materials as like more holistically, and spiritually, actually, I think that those sorts of aspects are really important, because it’s one of culture, actually. Culture plays a really crucial role in materials and how we engage with them, or how we’ve associated with them, as well. And that’s something I’m very conscious of bringing into the dialogue of materials because I think it’s one that it feels like it could ease our biodiversity and not our monoculture because we see these nuances forming between the cultures. Different cultures have different ways of representing their materiality, or they’re sort of relationships to it. And there’s so many learnings that we can take from that. Rather than it feeling like, oh, there should be a universal way in which we operate, or how materials should look or behave or what they should be used for. So I think there’s this idea of the understanding, or the lack of understanding is one that hasn’t been representative of culture. I think it’s always been this sort of Western lens on what design is and can do, and I think that has really come from the term design and designer, actually, and I think it’s less accessible for all cultures, because it’s one where it’s hierarchical, you know. Design as well feels like it’s quite an important one, or like a professional one, a learned one. And really, it’s an exercise of translation, actually, and one that is translating materials into these forms that happened to have different uses. And for me, I’ve been really questioning the term designer and design for myself, because I work internationally – even during the pandemic, and lockdown – I’m still working internationally. But my dialogue somehow needs to shift, or my engagement needs to shift, in a way that feels more inclusive and less hierarchical, and less egotistical, because I think the term designer is loaded with the ego actually. Because it’s one person, like one person apparently has agency over something like this. And actually, you know, the material itself doesn’t have the agency – it’s the person that does. And I want the material to be part of my dialogue. It is a collaborator to me. It’s not something that doesn’t have a consciousness. It’s its own being. It’s way more intelligent than I am, so I need to listen to it and I need it to be part of my team, actually.

Katie Treggiden 

I think you talked about our relationship with materials being one of extraction and use and that makes me think very much of the take make waste model of the linear economy. Whereas actually, a circular economy model is one of dialogue and one of renewal and that fits much better with this idea of a translator rather than as you say, a designer that’s imposing ideas onto a material. I like that. After the break, I talk to Seetal about the language of materials, why we need to stop calling waste waste, why we need to decolonise the language of materials and make it anticapitalistic.

Katie Treggiden 

I might have mentioned I’ve got a new book coming out. Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure published by Ludion is available to pre order on Amazon now and in local bookshops from 8th October.

Katie Treggiden 

So your book was divided into three sections: everyday, sciences, and expansive. And I’m guessing from what you’ve just said, the reason that you didn’t use kind of categorisations like metal and plastic, or traditional Western ways of looking at things, was to try and shake that up a little bit and challenge some of those Western perspectives. Can you explain a little bit more about how that categorisation system helped you to do that?

Seetal Solanki 

Yeah, it was quite hard. I would say it was not easy to think of an alternative way of categorising these materials, and really, it was trying to create different ecosystems or ecologies of sorts and that was driven through process actually. And that’s how these three chapters came about. So everyday materials were treated in a way where you know, something like leather off cuts from a designer called Jorge Penadés – he’s used leather off cuts from the fashion industry and remoulded them into something that’s really structural, by binding it with a glue that’s been made from animal bones. And so the entire thing is carnivorous. But it’s also residue, or like, surpluses from it a very sort of troubled industry, I would say. And leather is such an everyday material but it’s been transformed into something that the material perhaps hadn’t been known for or could have been known for. So, again, it’s this idea of a translation exercise in an everyday material being translated into something with an entirely different use than its original; than its origin. And then Sciences is a chapter about how science and design are becoming, you know, partners really. And whether it’s growing a bacteria in a laboratory that’s originated from soil. And that’s from this agency in London called Faber Features led by Natsai Audrey Chieza, a dear friend of mine, and she has been working with a scientist over 10 years now developing a dye from bacteria that has originated from soil in a laboratory that has been entirely synthesised. And it can be used as a dye for textiles, which has very little water to none. And it’s not damaging our water streams, it’s not extractive in the same way as other dyes are, it’s anti pollutant in a way. And so that sort of collaborative effort with science and design is something that’s, I think, always been present. It’s just shining a light on it in a way where sometimes the invisible materials are becoming visible, basically. And then Expansive is a chapter that is more abstract, actually. It’s kind of expanding our view of what materials can be, such as water, such as digital, such as air, you know. Like Tino Seubert is a designer who has almost filtered carbon from the air, and collected that, harvested it and generated a…. so from the carbon black actually, that’s been collected, is then used as a dye for textiles, also lead for pencils, and printing ink and all sorts of things. And it’s actually questioning what material is basically throughout the whole book. So the abstract or more expansive side of it is, like, hopefully a bit more boundary pushing and getting people to view materials, not as just things that very physical and present.

 

Katie Treggiden 

And are you seeing this sense of pushing the boundaries about what a material is? And I guess from my personal area of interest, how waste can be used as a material amongst the students that you’re teaching? Are you starting to see that change coming through the next generation?

Seetal Solanki 

Yep, it’s definitely very present in curriculum. I think we, I teach at the RCA, I teach on textiles, and I’m a tutor there and one of the learning outcomes has a link – like cares about sustainability, basically. So, there needs to be at least efforts placed on what area of sustainability are you looking at? Is it societal? Is it labour? Was it like culture? You know, there’s so many areas in which students can sort of question what sustainable practices are for them. And I think that’s, yeah, that didn’t exist when I was a student. No way. And I think because there’s been more emphasis and more transparency around what we can do as a society to change our behaviours. And if it can begin in these learning spaces, such as the younger generation, it becoming the norm, rather than something that’s an option. And I think that is really encouraging to see, especially with the student cohort that have the honour of, you know, guiding really, I think they’re really savvy to be honest. I have no doubt they’re actually going to be the generation that actually can see this change. I don’t think my generation will. But I think my generation is about developing the tools somewhat to pass on, basically. I don’t think I’ll see this change but I do hope the generations that come after me do, or at least help shape it in some way. But I think sustainability still feels optional in other places. Maybe that’s changed a bit more dramatically now. And I think it’s on people’s minds a lot more than it has been, and I think I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life, so maybe that’s also a sign. But there’s definitely, there’s hunger, there’s appetite, I just hope that people can do it justice and do it in a way that’s not just replacing a material for, you know, like for like. That’s not really where we need to be. It’s all about systemic change, and materials can enable that. But we need to do it in a way where it is driving it towards systemic change.

Katie Treggiden 

And how does waste as a raw material specifically fit into that systemic change?

Seetal Solanki 

So there’s a number of ways in which that is present in that sort of conversation and method. One is not calling it waste, first. I think we need to become more material literate. As a society, we’re very illiterate around materials. So I’m developing – well I’m writing a second book, actually, which is about the language of materials, and it’s going to be addressing all of those terms. One about decolonising language, and another making anticapitalistic. And having multiple translations of that as well. So it feels like we can have the east and west dialogue, and also the global north and global south involved, and not just a European lens.

Katie Treggiden 

Can you share some specific examples of words that you perhaps might have come up with better definitions for or better translations for?

Seetal Solanki 

I don’t know if it’s better, it’s just different. So there’s one word called Ubuntu. I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly, so forgive me if I’m not. And basically, it’s a word, which is representative of sustainability in a very holistic way. So basically, the South African word was originated from there and it says here, a quality that includes the essential human virtues, compassion and humanity. And there’s multiple translations of it, but it’s philosophical. So I think it’s one of care and respect, ultimately. And I think for me, that’s what sustainability is; it’s care and respect. And that is one where, if we’re taking that we need to give back. So yeah, it just feels – it’s more of a feedback loop than anything, rather than it being like, ‘Oh, it’s transactional,’ so I’ll just take you and you can just deal with it, actually.

Seetal Solanki 

Actually, that has a really damaging impact. It’s quite traumatic, actually. And one that needs healing. So yeah, there’ll be like multiple translations of Ubuntu, I think they’ll –  sustainability sorry – open to being one. But there’ll be other languages that potentially are involved because a lot of languages aren’t written. And that’s kind of interesting, because it’s an embodied one. You know, like, I learnt how to cook, by observing and not following instructions, like in a recipe book. So, it feels very intuitive for me to cook rather than feeling like an exercise of reading, basically, or following instruction. So it just feels really embodied and I just intuitively do it. So sometimes words, can’t capture everything. So that’s something that I’m taking into account as well.

Katie Treggiden 

And I guess these systemic changes that we need and personal changes that we need have to become embodied, right? It’s no good I was just talking about this stuff and writing about it. For real change to happen, it’s about behaviour, and it’s about those dialogues and those sort of, that circularity that you talked about in having relations with the things we’re taking and thinking about how we can give back. I’m looking forward to this book. When’s it coming out?

Seetal Solanki 

It’s so overwhelming this book to me, because it’s way bigger than anything that I have ever done, I think. So 2022, it will be out.

Seetal Solanki 

There’ll be other voices in it as well. So not just mine. I’m looking forward to that as well. But this idea of circularity is interesting to me, because I’ve been really looking at it quite deeply. And thinking about this idea of like, circularity is just perpetuating more and more. It’s just self perpetuating, it just keeps going round and round. But actually, we need to think about what inputs it has and what outputs it has as well. So I think maybe that model needs to be inclusive of that rather than it just swelling round and round, if that makes sense. And I’ve written a piece about reincarnation being the original circular economy. And it’s more of a philosophical one, but I think it’s one based on like, values, actually. And that does go back to like care and respect and karma and things like this.

Katie Treggiden 

I’m looking forward to it.

Katie Treggiden 

And I think if you look at pre capitalist societies, most of them had some sort of spiritual belief that involved what we would now see as sustainable practices. So there was a culture somewhere on the planet, and I forget where, where every time they took salmon from the river they would put the bones back into the river. And in their belief system that was about honouring the salmon gods and kind of returning what they’d taken. But I think it reminded them, you know, they weren’t just dredging that river with trawler nets, they were sort of very carefully taking something and very carefully putting something back and it reminded them of that care and respect and that circularity. And I think where we’ve lost some of these spiritual kind of frameworks, I think we’ve lost that connection with the natural world. So I think some of those more philosophical spiritual viewpoints are actually really beneficial, even in just a very scientific way of kind of how much the planet’s gotten, and how much we can take before we start running out.

Seetal Solanki 

Exactly. I don’t see spirituality as just this airy fairy thing. It has scientific principles as well. And it’s something that I think can be measured in an entirely different way. It’s just not measured in an economical way, basically. And I think that’s the difference is like, because we’re living in a capitalist society, everything’s driven on growth, economical growth, but actually, there are organic growth as well involved in our society. But capitalism doesn’t include that. It’s actually devoid of that. And therefore, its value system is devoid as well. But actually, we do think that, and these current models or systems we have in place, they’re just outdated and we can’t operate in the same way anymore. We just can’t. We need to be working in this third space, which is what I call the third space – it’s like living between these polarities where it is, I don’t know – care? I mean, it could be respect, but also disrespects and like, what is the in between, because everything should be about balance, ultimately. And it’s very similar to how you were describing like, this sort of worshipping, what you have taken, like with the salmon This idea of worship, was kind of really interesting as a practice anyway, because I think it’s framed on rituals, and practice forming all of your rituals, basically. So practice is much bigger than the self in a way, because you will never be able to beat it. The practice will always beat you – like yoga, for example. I will never be able to – even though I practice yoga every day – I will never conquer yoga, ever. And I think that just sort of adds this layer of humility and humbleness. And that I’m not the dominant one here.

Katie Treggiden 

I think that’s almost the problem with our history of consumption and extraction, is it has been about conquering, you know. We’ve wanted to conquer the world and conquer markets. And there’s been this very sort of aggressive language around the way that we treat materials. I think that’s a really valuable point, actually, that having a bit more humility in the face of, you know, the limited resources we have on this planet and the, the huge amount of people that we need to share them with. I think more humility in that dialogue would be very valuable indeed.

Seetal Solanki 

Yeah, because obviously we need to get out of this human centric model that we are in towards and more planet centric one which offers that humility actually.

Katie Treggiden 

And also, I think it’s not only a human centric model, but I think it’s a Western global north centric model. And I think we need to be in kind of understanding that human is a broader term than we usually use it to mean.

Seetal Solanki 

Yes, exactly.

Katie Treggiden 

So you’ve been writing and speaking about and exploring materials and waste for many, many years, as you said, for a long time before you founded Ma-tt-er. Do you get the sense that things are changing?

Seetal Solanki 

Yes, to a degree. I would say at least with materials. That’s something that more and more people are discussing, and more and more people are becoming aware of. So that has changed quite dramatically, I think over the past five years, and that is only a good thing I feel, even if it does feel like there’s just this surge of people working within this space. That can hopefully drive some sort of change, at least. But I think there’s also something around like newness here, which I find quite problematic, actually. Because I think, with newness, it means there’s this idea of opportunity, basically, or one of ‘Oh, newness is exciting, it’s new.’ And it’s like, one that people latch on to, and who knows how long it will last. And maybe it’s not necessarily about newness, or this idea of innovation, or this idea of like worshipping something that’s new actually is really troubling to me. Because we then forget, actually what was working in the first place. And there’s so many materials in the world and maybe it’s us trying to rethink how we use them first, as well. And there’s, there’s kind of a newness in that, let alone like newness and developing a new material. I think, a lot of time, people are looking at the solution mindset – it’s something that’s very present. And that is driven on capitalism, I think, and so is newness. But we can’t operate like that, ultimately, like all the time, because there are so many materials that we haven’t given the space. They haven’t fulfilled their potential in the first place. We have 160,000 unique materials on the planet. Where are they? I mean, who knows about all these materials? How are they being utilised? Where are they in the world? And how are we applying them? Are they even being applied? I don’t know. But like, how about we think about how to best utilise them first, as well as like thinking about the material – the newer ideas around waste and materials, because waste can only exist if we don’t use something to its full potential. So there’s something in that I think needs to be re addressed in the first place. So, it’s kind of trying to find this balance between newness and what we already have available to us and not feeling like it’s one or the other. But there’s like this inbetween, or there’s this balance of the two coexisting together, because we can’t just keep generating new things.

Katie Treggiden 

So, what do you think the future holds for waste? Do you think we can get to a place where there is no more waste?

Seetal Solanki 

No I think we’ll always have waste . It’s just what we do with the waste is the most important part because I think we need to reevaluate waste, and not call it waste, and call it surplus, because I think there’s more value in that. So we need to almost reframe our relationship with waste entirely. And I think that’s behavioural. I think that also comes from the individual as well, to begin with, which then informs like how we dispose of things as well, and our behaviours towards disposability, or our behaviours towards longevity even. Because when we dispose of things in our homes, and like general rubbish, you know, put them in the bin, the council comes and collects it, we have no agency over where that goes. We pay for this service, but we have no agency as to where that ends up. This is crazy to me, like, I mean, I have a responsibility for the waste I produced in my home, but yet I don’t have a responsibility when it leaves my home. And I think this is really mad to me, but also like, it’s part of the system. There needs to be something there that needs to be addressed, I think.

Seetal Solanki 

But we will always have waste because we are creatures that consume, and those consumption habits will always create waste. Even this idea of a zero waste lifestyle, I think is a myth, actually. Even with a zero waste lifestyle, what happens to your, I don’t know, metal container once you no longer are around? What happens to that? Who’s accountable for that? Like making that container itself generated waste when it was being made. So, you just can’t think about like, that’s very linear, I think still, like the zero waste lifestyle. I think all the little nooks and crannies of that, that very system aren’t really being looked at enough, I think. If we’re consuming, there will always be waste. But we need to consume in order to survive. So it’s just how we respect what waste is to us, and our relationship to it, more than anything. And the system generated around it can be readdressed, as well.

Katie Treggiden 

So it’s about redefining waste and showing it more respect and being more accountable for it.

Seetal Solanki 

Yep, absolutely.

Katie Treggiden 

Brilliant. Thank you very much Seetal. It’s been so lovely to talk to you. And I’m very grateful for some really quite profound insights there, I think.

Seetal Solanki 

Yeah, I can like talk for hours. So you have to stop me.

Katie Treggiden 

No, that’s fantastic. Thank you.

Katie Treggiden 

If you enjoyed this episode of Circular with Katie Treggiden, can I ask you to leave a review, and perhaps even hit the subscribe button. Those two actions really help other people to find the podcast, so I would be very grateful. Thank you. Thank you to Seetal Solanki, Gordon Barker for the edit, October Communications for marketing support, Sound Compound for the music, and to you for joining me. You’ve been listening to Circular with Katie Treggiden.

P.S. I am recording Season Two of the podcast now and the theme this time is repair. I really believe that people who make and mend with their hands hold the keys to helping us move from a linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to a more sustainable ‘circular’ economy. If you do too, I am looking for likeminded brands to help bring the meaningful conversations I know I’m going to have on this season of the podcast to a larger audience. Email me and I’ll send you more info on how you could get involved as a brand partner.