Product Design Challenge Firing Up Participants

BRING’s first-ever Product Design Challenge is sparking plenty of interest from Lane County residents.

The challenge is igniting ideas, cooperation, learning—and, of course, interest in how reusable items can be given a second chance through creative upcycling.

Lytton Reid, who is leading the Product Design Challenge team at Rainbow Valley Design & Construction, will wait until the big reveal on Saturday, April 22 to share the final results of his company’s project. He will say that they’re converting a steel drum (shown above) into a dynamic shelving unit.

Reid isn’t a stranger to this type of creative endeavor. He collects reusable building materials to make custom benches in his home shop and he’s excited about the Product Design Challenge because it gives a public face to his passion.

“This is an opportunity to show how otherwise useless materials can be repurposed and turned into something very useful and functional,” he says. “It’s potentially inspiring for other people to think about how they might reuse things that they might ordinarily throw away—things they’re used to seeing as trash.”

The Product Design Challenge has also given Reid the opportunity to engage with his colleagues on a different level. Rainbow Valley’s team is made up of him, another designer, a carpenter, and their front office administrator. “The four of us don’t often work together, and it’s been fun,” he says. “We’re all approaching it in a very casual, relaxed way. It’s hard to choose a direction when the possibilities are so wide. So far we’ve been having fun with it and doing lots of brainstorming and chatting.”

Hot tips from an expert upcycler

Reid has a few pieces of advice for people interested in getting involved in next year’s Product Design Challenge—or taking on their own upcycling challenges in the coming year. For most folks, the most challenging and time-consuming part of  a creative project is coming up with the design. Would-be upcyclers often begin collecting found items with the intention of using them in a project “someday.”

“These things take up space, and it’s hard to make the time to modify them when you don’t necessarily have a project in mind,” Reid says. “There’s an art to keeping things around and keeping some kind of potential project in the back of your mind without ending up with a warehouse full of junk.”

One way to avoid the clutter is to use the same design over and over. “I make these benches out of entirely recycled materials,” Reid says. “Because I have a design already nailed down, I know the sizes of pieces I need. When I see pieces that might be applicable, I grab them and cut them to the size I need and neatly stack them in the shop. Then when I have enough pieces, I make a few benches and hand them out. If you have an idea already worked out, you can apply the materials as they come along.”

If that sounds too boring, don’t despair: New (used) materials with different patterns, colors or features will keep it interesting.

“Maker” students heat up the competition

The 16 students in Stan Mercer’s maker’s class at Creswell Middle School will be giving the Rainbow Valley team a real run for their money. They’re crafting new work stations for their classroom as part of the Product Design Challenge.

“The students saw it as an opportunity to build more of what we need here,” says Mercer (pictured at left).

The maker’s class is loosely tied to the STEM education philosophy, but Mercer says it was also created due to student need. A few years ago, a young man was kicked out of every elective class and needed a place to go during his free period. He agreed to hang out with Mercer because the two got along. One of the first things Mercer asked him was what he liked to do.

“He said, ‘I like skateboards,’” Mercer recalls. “I said, ‘Have you ever made a skateboard?’ And he said, ‘No.’ Then he said, ‘Have you?’ I said, ‘No, but I stayed in school long enough to figure things out.’”

Mercer and the student ended up building four skateboards together. The student discovered a penchant for both construction and graphic design, and decided school wasn’t so bad after all. He’s now a sophomore in high school, where he’s doing well academically and excelling as a member of the wrestling team.

That experience was the genesis of the maker’s class, which is now in its second year. Mercer begins by teaching the basics of design. One of their early projects is a 3D paper object that requires precision cutting and folding. They move on to projects like boats made from soda cans and crafting small wooden blocks. By using inexpensive, easy-to-find products from the beginning, it’s no big deal to scrap a design and recycle the material if someone makes a mistake.

After this teacher-led period, which is intended to teach hard skills, the class is very much student-directed. They choose what they want to make and come up with ideas for how to complete the projects.

Student-led projects spark creative ideas

It was the students’ idea to paint the top of one workstation (made from a solid core door sourced at BRING) with chalkboard paint so they could sketch ideas on it. They also proposed cutting an old metal filing cabinet in half and placing it near the legs of the table to provide supply drawers (Mercer did that—“There’s a limit to how much you can expect a 13-year-old to do,” he says).

Another group wanted to create a standing work station. As they work to assemble it in class one day, Mercer watches them with a careful eye. “I do as little on the projects as possible for them,” he explains.

When it comes time to attach the table’s top, the students begin peppering Mercer with questions. “It’s entirely up to you,” is his response to most, although he does give a few general pieces of advice. Try balancing the top on the table, then moving around to see if you’re bumping into the base or legs, he suggests. Sometimes it’s good to leave a project for a day and approach it with fresh eyes before making a final decision.

Mercer is excited to see the final results, and to have something that will serve his students this year and in years to come. “Without BRING’s support we maybe could have built one new table,” he says. “Now we’ll have three.”

You can check out the results of all the projects created for BRING’s inaugural Product Design Challenge during the Metamorphose fashion show on Saturday, April 22 at 6 p.m. The event takes place at the Wheeler Pavilion at the Lane County Fairgrounds.

Join Us for Fun Events This Month!

There are several ways to have fun with BRING this month! On Wednesday, April 19, Oakshire Brewing will donate $1 to BRING from every pint sold. Stop by their Whiteaker neighborhood public house at 207 Madison Street in Eugene between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. for some great beer. Better yet, come between 5 and 7 p.m. to meet BRING staff and listen to some great music in a fun, kid-friendly environment. Thanks to Oakshire for supporting BRING during Earth Week.

And speaking of Earth Week – Saturday, April 22 is Earth Day! To celebrate, we’re hosting two events at the Planet Improvement Center. Volunteers from the Lane County Extension Service will present a composting workshop from 10 a.m. to noon. Our staff will teach you how to build cedar planters and cold frames from salvaged materials from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Both classes are free; a suggested donation of $3 to $5 will help cover the cost of the planter and cold frame class.

Later that evening, we’ll announce the results of our inaugural Product Design Challenge at the Metamorphose fashion show. This annual event, sponsored by St. Vincent de Paul, showcases recycled duds made by local designers. MECCA will also share the winners of their Object Afterlife Art Challenge. The event is Saturday, April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Wheeler Pavilion at the Lane County Fairgrounds. Watch for updates on the Product Design Challenge on our blog, Facebook and Twitter pages over the next few weeks.

Simple Living: Take Three

Google “living simply” and you’ll get millions of results  –  essays, blogs, books, websites, conferences. Clearly, living with a smaller environmental footprint –  more intention, less stuff – is an appealing idea that’s gaining popularity. Now more than ever, it’s critical for those of us with a choice to simplify our lives reduce our impact on our planet and its climate. This month, we will be publishing three profiles of people in our community who have chosen to simplify their lifestyles and enrich the quality of their lives. Shirley Perez West wrote these stories for the winter 2014 edition of the UsedNews, our free print and online quarterly newsletter.

A Simple Life Isn’t a Small Life

By Shirley Perez West

Erik and Fay Debuhr have been moving toward more intentional living for most of their adult lives, seeking lifestyles more in line with their values. They met, married, and had their son while living at Maitreya Ecovillage. Now they live in a seven-foot by twelve-foot Conestoga Hut and run Community Supported Shelters—living with less, so they can contribute more to the community.Debuhr family Continue reading “Simple Living: Take Three”

Living Simply: Take 2

Google “living simply” and you’ll get millions of results  –  essays, blogs, books, websites, conferences. Clearly, living with a smaller environmental footprint –  more intention, less stuff – is an appealing idea that’s gaining popularity. Now more than ever, it’s critical for those of us with a choice to simplify our lives reduce our impact on our planet and its climate. This month, we will be publishing three profiles of people in our community who have chosen to simplify their lifestyles and enrich the quality of their lives. Shirley Perez West wrote these stories for the winter 2014 edition of the UsedNews, our free print and online quarterly newsletter.

Putting a Good Life Together

By Shirley Perez West

Whitey Lueck stands in his thriving garden and looks quizzically at his visitor, as he if doesn’t quite “get” the question she’s just asked—How much work does it take to maintain such a beautiful, productive garden?

“First off,” says Whitey, “it’s not work.” Fair enough. If you spend time talking to him or reading his website, it becomes clear why his way of life is, essentially, a joy. “I realized somewhere along the way that there’s something to be said for treading lightly,” he says.Whitey in The Woods_CROP

Continue reading “Living Simply: Take 2”

Living Simply: Take 1

Google “living simply” and you’ll get millions of results  –  essays, blogs, books, websites, conferences. Clearly, living with a smaller environmental footprint –  more intention, less stuff – is an appealing idea that’s gaining popularity. Now more than ever, it’s critical for those of us with a choice to simplify our lives and reduce our impact on our planet and its climate. This month, we will be publishing three profiles of people in our community who have chosen to simplify their lifestyles and enrich the quality of their lives. Shirley Perez West wrote these stories for the winter 2014 edition of the UsedNews, our free print and online quarterly newsletter.

Rebooting to Focus on What’s Important

By Shirley Perez West

Sheryl Balthrop may be the last person you’d expect to seek out a simpler life. As a transactional and trial lawyer, partner in the firm Gaydos, Churnside and Balthrop, and president of the Eugene Chamber of Commerce (all work she loves), Sheryl surprised a lot of people when she and husband Dave decided to “reboot” their lives.Dave and Sheryl Balthrop_CROP

Continue reading “Living Simply: Take 1”

Creswell Students Join Design Challenge

Materials SelectionThis Wednesday, March 8,  thirteen students in Stan Mercer’s Makerspace class at Creswell Middle School visited the Planet Improvement Center to select materials for BRING’s inaugural Product Design Challenge. Separating into three design teams, the students sifted through tables and bins full of dusty ceiling fans, dull door knobs, old spark plugs, porcelain toilet covers, green plastic siding, broken doors, and more. Their mission: find materials that inspire them to make something new from old. Continue reading “Creswell Students Join Design Challenge”

Bioplastics: An Idea Not Even a Compost Heap Can Love

Throughout the winter and spring, BRING has been helping the Love Food Not Waste program roll out its residential composting pilot program. To help people understand what not to put in their compost bins, we are revisiting this story on bioplastics we published last year in the UsedNews, our quarterly print and online newsletter. 

rexius-compost-pile-1

By Shirley Perez West

As VP for Environmental Services at Rexius, part of Jack Hoeck’s job includes turning food waste into a contaminant-free, marketable soil product. For a city that throws away up to 30,000 tons of food each year, it’s also a valuable public service. And converting mountains of leftover table scraps into rich garden compost, it turns out, is no picnic. Continue reading “Bioplastics: An Idea Not Even a Compost Heap Can Love”