Chris Obrist, the initiator, launched the initiative very recently as a way of creating awareness among young children regarding the need to reduce plastic waste. The idea emerged from the PlasticTwist Swiss Pilot. Commencing with the experience of producing 400 ReButtons with schoolchildren, the initiative is now expanding and developing materials for use in training teachers to use the approach and tools to run the activity in their schools, with support from FabLab.
The initiative was developed under the auspicious of FabLab Luzern, which focuses on Personal Digital Fabrication – making personal things using modern computer-controlled technology, and making it available to all. It is part of a larger global network of Fablabs.
Re-BUTTON & Chris Obrist
What is the social innovation RE-BUTTON about?
We invented the ReButton for the 10-day-long LUGA, the public Spring Fair in Lucerne, Switzerland. Among other things, they have a special programme for children aged between 7 and 16. The organisers were looking for experiments where you could learn something about industrial processes. We wanted to connect this with the theme of plastic and recycling.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
For us the ReButton is a «door opener»: the simple idea of turning a bottle cap into a neat and functioning design piece. It transports our mission statement, to give plastic a value or see it as a valuable material. The ReButton is simple to do and everyone has bottle caps.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
I’m the «inventor» of the ReButtons, but people around helped by giving feedback and testing it. It simply started with a hole in a block of wood into which hot plastic was pressed with a screw clamp – a bit adventurous. From there it was a long way, using trial and error, to the finished press mould, which we can produce on the CNC-milling machine in our FabLab Luzern. The manual and CAD files are open-source and can be downloaded for free from our webpage. So the availability of the FabLab and PlasticTwist research project were important elements for me to drive the project.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
As with any project, time plays a big role: you always need more than you think! Bringing the project to fruition within a deadline is the challenge. Further, can people do it without help? Do they accept and adopt it? Can I make it any easier? …
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?)
ReButton started from scratch, I don’t know a comparable project like this. It started with the task of developing a practical experiment for children under the umbrella of the PlasticTwist project. Something to do yourself (DIY) and at the same time the idea of the revaluation of plastic in itself.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
Ideally, the project or idea speaks for itself. When you have to explain too much, most people aren’t interested or the project gets less attention. A self-explanatory design based on a very simple idea is the key to any project.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
Testing in a «hard» situation must be part of the design process. You have to be sure that it works as well as possible without the need for too much intervention or explanations to use it. Also, you need to get feedback and ask the right questions to bring the project to the next level.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
I’m paid by the PlasticTwist project, and that was the basis for me to develop the ReButton press mould and create the documentation and workshops. The project itself does not need financing to continue. Bottle caps we get for free, and for the press mould we use leftover material. Of course, we need some tools like a heat gun, screwdriver and a vice. But those tools are available and free to use in our space (FabLab).
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
To scale up a project, you need people who support your project with manpower (or womanpower). For the ReButton our next target group is teachers. So we decided to offer courses especially for teachers. In the ‘Teach-the-Teacher’ they will learn to produce the ReButton with the press mould. Then they can borrow the press mould and tool for free to make the ReButton with their classes at their schools. For the students, it is a benefit if they can make something practical while learning about recycling.
How do you change the whole system?
Big question with a short answer: big changes happen in small steps! Maybe the ReButtons are a small step, with the potential to change minds.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, who has only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
These are the two most important prerequisites. Additionally, you must be tenacious (very important too!) and you should have the ability to exchange ideas with others: sharing is caring! If you are open to new suggestions and you enter into cooperation, both sides learn from each other. Peer-to-peer-learning is a big part of the philosophy of FabLab in general.
Interviewed by Manon van Leeuwen
Chris Obrist is a media artist who is among the scientific staff of FABLAB LUZERN (HSLU Technik & Architektur). He has a Bachelor’s in Arts and Mediation from HSLU and has taken the preliminary course for a university degree in Design, Film and Art. Since 2013 he has participated in several exhibitions and live performances.
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