March 26, 2021
Women in Design: Professor Veena Sahajwalla’s Zero-Waste Mission
Growing up in Mumbai, where poverty can often make repurposing and repairing a way of life, Veena Sahajwalla was instilled with a drive to make the most out of any waste she came across. She studied at the Indian Institute of Technology, where she was the only woman in her metallurgy class, before moving to Australia and developing the process of creating Green Steel. Sahajwalla found a way to break down tyres – which often choke landfill sites – and use the molecular components for steel production in the place of coal and coke, saving over 11 million tyres from global landfill as of 2018. This success enabled Sahajwalla to establish the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at the University of New South Wales, where she and a team of young engineers work to extract the basic components of complex waste products so they can be turned into completely new materials.
Although much of Sahajwalla’s work on developing a circular economy is revolutionary, the engineer has caught Casper Magazine’s attention for her most recent innovation, which brings together our interests in sustainable design and the fashion industry’s waste problem. Sahajwalla and her team have created a series of wall and floor tiles, as well as a dining table, made out of old glassware and clothing. These ‘green ceramics’, which range from grey-toned with shimmering mosaic patterns to a vibrant blue, will help make a dent in the 6,000kg of fashion and textile waste that Australians throw away every ten minutes while also providing a beautiful designer look to the homes that use them. That’s what makes Sahajwalla a true innovator – she doesn’t view waste as a problem, but as a resource that can be tapped for new designs and creativity.
Just this month, Sahajwalla finalised the first micro-factory that will produce Green Ceramics for distribution, the building itself repurposing an old shed in the regional town of Cootamundra. Anirban Ghose, who works with Sahajwalla at the SMaRT Centre, has described her work as the start of a ‘materials revolution’, changing the way that industries from design and fashion to construction can approach their waste.
Casper Magazine is focusing on innovative and influential women in design all month long. If you liked this article, check out our introduction to the series, or read the last entry about a group of artists known as the Glasgow Girls.