A new breed of consumer is on the rise – one who seeks beauty in products that also have a positive impact on society. As a result, more and more countries are adopting national policies to ban single-use plastic dishes and cutlery. It is under this context that WDO met with Anne Sophie Flores Saleun – a young French-Mexican designer studying at École de Design Nantes Atlantique (France) where she has developed a project to find new food practices and initiatives that promote waste recycling in agribusiness. ÖLÖTL is a biodegradable plate made of corncobs that does just that but also generates new income for Mexican farmers and the community.
Finding and developing new materials to promote responsible consumption
“The most important part for me was to find a forgotten by-product, one that is not already used for human or animal consumption,” stated Anne Sophie. “Being half Mexican, I have been influenced by Mexico’s culture and I realized that since the beginning of time, corn has been a symbol of our identity and whose use/purpose has gone far beyond food.”
Corn is so important to the agribusiness but its co-product – the cob, has been nothing more than unfairly discriminated waste
Mexico has 64 breeds of corn out of the 220 existing in Latin America and one of the greatest risks today is the contamination by the transgenic substances used. Corn is so important to the agribusiness but its co-product – the cob, has been nothing more than unfairly discriminated waste. “After the corn harvest, the cob gets burned on one side of the field, which as a process, also has a negative impact on our planet instead of using it to improve it and create new sources of wealth.”
“After a lot of research and experimentation to find this biodegradable material, I realized that as a designer, the challenge was not only with coming up with ideas but also with finding professionals that would be interested and willing to help me develop this idea. The next big challenge was to consider the production process itself to produce an ecological product, free of chemicals.”
Changing the perception of sustainability in Mexico
In France, we already have some products that are made from bagasse, which is the sub product of sugar, and people have more awareness and ecological education. In Mexico, environment-friendly products are expensive and are targeted to the upper class of society. That said, the presence of informal markets and street vendors in Mexico dating back to the pre-Hispanic era and today are found in public spaces throughout the country. In 2003, it was estimated that there were 199,328 street vendors in Mexico City alone.
Mexico has one of the most extensive street food cultures in Latin America, with about 58% eating on the street at least once a week.
The National Association of Plastic Industries (ANIPAC) and the National Association of the Chemical Industry (ANIQ), estimate that the national consumption of polystyrene in Mexico is around 125,000 tons per year, of which 25% is destined for manufacturing of disposable products for the food industry.
“I wanted to replace the plastic and styrofoam plates that people buy because it is very economical, and use ölötl (which means corn skeleton in Nahuatl language – known historically as Aztec). This plate is 100% Mexican because it is fabricated and uses Mexican corn, which in itself will have a positive impact first of all on the economy and in agriculture families, and second of all this will be a way of protecting the native corn.”
Changing the world means being respectful of the planet while dreaming
“When I first discovered what design was, it opened the doors to express myself to make a change. When I’m designing, I want to make people discover the imaginary and see things through a different perspective. My secret weapon is my dual nationality; I love to incorporate my two cultures in everything I do. I want to make eco-responsible products but not forget to keep its poetic, aesthetic and practical side.”
About Anne Sophie Flores Saleun
Anne Sophie is a French-Mexican young designer studying at École de Design Nantes Atlantique (France). She has a Bachelor in product Design and is currently doing a Masters degree in Food Design. She has worked in Barcelona and Milan.
About L’école de design Nantes Atlantique
L’École de design Nantes Atlantique is a private institution for higher education dedicated to design professions, in association with the University of Nantes. Founded in 1988 and recognized by the State, the school is a non-profit organization. The only design institution in western France, the school benefits from a unique regional situation. It has built an expertise in four socio-economic fields, combining education, experimental research and innovation, through four Design Labs, one of them being the Sustainable Cities Design Lab dedicated to the evolution of mobility and built environment. It has recently launched an initiative to find new food practices and waste recycling in agribusiness. L’École de design Nantes Atlantique is a WDO Member.