UAL is rolling out donation boxes for students to leave and collect materials

A team of current and former students from University of the Arts London have worked together to create mobile storage units that allow classmates to deposit and collect materials as part of a ‘circular economy of sharing’.

The Re-Use Units, being launched at UAL’s London College of Fashion, Chelsea College of Arts and London College of Communication, will provide a dedicated space for students to discard unwanted waste from their projects for others to readily reuse may be extra.

Three Material Re-Use Units from the University of the Arts London (UAL)
Re-Use Units are mobile donation boxes for excess material

Around 1,000 tons of material are currently disposed of at the university every year, which corresponds to almost 40 garbage trucks and 23 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The hope is that the reuse program will allow UAL to reduce that footprint while providing an affordable, accessible resource bank for students — especially given the current cost of living crisis.

Close-up of UAL storage unit with labels for paper and card
They are purpose built to store various materials

“By providing our students with the tools to share unwanted or excess materials with each other, we help students source materials for free while reducing our carbon emissions,” said Ian Lane, UAL’s Head of Sustainability , opposite Dezeen.

“I believe our new re-use units will help build a circular economy of sharing in our community, thereby transforming the way we work together as an institution.”

Re-use donation box for sheet materials in a workshop
Each unit is constructed from medium density fibreboard

Originally conceived by student interns who joined the university’s sustainability team in 2019, the units are part of UAL’s broader climate action plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

Not having enough space across the three campuses to turn an entire room into a material reuse station, the team decided to design bespoke donation boxes in collaboration with former student Luca Beckerson, who now works as a retail design project manager.

The final design consists of adjustable medium density fiberboard (MDF) storage units sized to work for wheelchair users and held together entirely without glue.

“This was so that at the end of their life, the units could be dismantled and the components cleaned and reused by the students in their projects,” Lane explained.

Material donation box for paper, board, haberdashery and acetate at the University of the Arts London (UAL)
Castors allow the units to be moved

There are currently four different versions of the reuse units specifically designed to accommodate various materials including hard and flexible sheet materials, stationery, paint, glue and tools, and various bulky materials.

“Visual panels were introduced so students could see materials as they passed,” Lane explained.

“There’s also an element of adaptability to the design, especially for the cabinet format. The unit is designed to contain a variety of inserts that can be fitted into it for specific products to allow for bespoke applications in specific areas.”

Re-use donation box for sheet materials in a workshop
The units are stationed in UAL workshops, canteens and corridors

This allows the setups to be tailored to a wide variety of UAL courses, ranging from textile and fashion design to products and furniture.

To ensure the units do not block major traffic routes or exhibition spaces needed for temporary student exhibitions, casters were added to the design to allow for mobility.

Set of reusable storage units labeled for different materials
QR codes can be scanned for instructions

The sloping roof acts like a piece of hostile architecture to prevent students from dumping materials onto it, which would hamper the units’ maneuverability.

“We are very proud of the units and believe they will be a great success,” Lane said. “But we need buy-in from our students to ensure they are actually used and become part of their university life.”

“My hope is that students who previously would have disposed of excess material will now think twice and realize that more sustainable options are available to them.”

University of the Arts London (UAL) Large Items and Fabrics Donation Box
A beveled top prevents students from dumping materials onto it

Aware of their own role in the climate crisis, many design students have already started using reclaimed waste materials in their projects.

Most recently, graduates have made plates out of discarded oyster and potato shells, turned cow bones into minimalistic pedestals, and turned leftover fabrics from the fashion industry into DIY life jackets for those affected by rising sea levels.

The photograph is by Orlando Callegaro.

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