Tero: Designing products for more sustainable habits

Elizabeth Coulombe and Valérie Laliberté are two Product Design students who made the choice of entrepreneurship to bring their innovative and sustainable design to the world. Elizabeth talks about human-centered design, sustainability and R&D.

 Building on the recycling trend

The idea emerged as Elizabeth and Valerie were doing their Bachelor in Product Design, a new programme at Laval University (Quebec City). They had to work on resolving a social or environmental issue. 

Traditional composting

In Quebec City we do not have an organized compost collection system from the city. People who want to compost have to take lessons but it is not so well-known. We wanted to design a new product that would make composting easier. 

Food Cycler in Korea (c) Amazon

A similar product was already designed in Korea – the Food Cycler is a machine that grinds food waste to reduce it up to 90% of it’s original volume and make it odourless. Indeed, food waste management is already well-advanced in South Korea, where the government initiated a “pay as you trash” policy: the heavier your trash bag, the more you pay. 

Composting with style

Drawing inspiration from Korea, the two Quebec students started designing a smaller and more ergonomic product:

We want Tero to be like another household appliance, something that you will feel comfortable leaving on your kitchen table.

Closing the loop of the circular economy

The final product should turn one kilo of food waste into 100 grammes of fertilizing powder within three hours through a dehydration process – it is a quick and odourless process.

We worked with agronomists and academics to find the best way to recycle food waste. We did not want to burn it. The dehydration process allows to retain all the nutriments to use as a fertilizer for gardening

It is one goal to design an innovative product, it is a completely different one to launch your first company after only three years of studying! The two entrepreneurs are still studying today – Elizabeth is doing an MBA – and working with engineers to make the best and most affordable product (through partnerships with Solutions Novika and the Center for industrial research support in Quebec – CRIQ), But entrepreneurship is also about finding investments, selling products, marketing…. 

From designers to entrepreneurs

We remain designers – we always focus on putting the user at the center of conception and development.

When the product is finalized, you will be able to order it through a crowdfunding campaign. In the mean time, you can follow Tero’s adventures on their website or Facebook page.

When in Mexico City, using rainwater can save your life

Last week in Mexico City, I got to discover new innovations, which triggered back my inspiration!  Did you know that Mexico City, this giant urban territory, used to be a lake but it was drained by the Spanish in the 16th Century? Yet, today, it is facing one of the most serious water shortages in an urban space but fascinating projects are being launched by civil organizations to help people access water. One of them. Isla Urbana, has developed a system that collects rainwater and purifies it for drinking purposes and more generally for all other uses in the house, and it is equal or better quality than tap water in Mexico City!

Designing for communities

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Is drinking rainwater innovative? It was probably one of the most ancient ways of surviving, but today with pollution and air contamination it has become dangerous. Thinking of sustainable solutions to water shortages in Mexico City, the team at Isla Urbana came up with a system designed to harvest rainwater and purify it.

 

Today, 36% of families in Mexico City do not have adequate access to water and spend up to 20% of their incomes to buy trucked water. United Nations

A team of young engineers, urbanists and ecologist decided to come together and develop a new industrial design system for rainwater harvesting: a blue tank collects and filters rainwater which is then pumped into a house. The household system is $1,100 for the complete installation and $150 annual maintenance costs.

The average harvesting in the city for a 60 m2 roof is 45,000 Liters (11,888 gallons) per year to harvest de average rainfall in the city of 750mm per year, which covers an average of 5 to 8 months of water needsRenata Fenton, Director of Design, Isla Urbana

Beware of the “megacorte”

This will definitely be useful next week, when the public water service will be completely suspended for three days (this is the “megacorte” or “mega cute”). Starting 31 October 2018, 13 boroughs of Mexico City and 13 municipalities of México state will be completely dry. This is to allow maintenance and repair work on the Cutzamala pipe.

Earning trust for the future

So far, and after 10 years, Isla Urbana has installed about 8,700 systems, which provide water to more than 52,000 users. The kits are designed to provide different types of water quality (from water for toilets and washing up to purified water for drinking), for different types of buildings and roof sizes and for both the urban and rural context.  

The real challenge now is to change the community’s perception of rainwater, teach them to trust the rainwater collected, to use it. Renata Fenton

Also, by storing increasing volumes of water, families can then become completely independent from unsustainable sources of water. The empowering nature of the benefit is crucial.

What makes this project so innovative is its realistic nature. Isla Urbana does not aim at solving the water issue in Mexico City in one day, it aims at providing solutions to everyday problems.