Last week I was privileged to interview Oliver Heath, designer, architect, television presenter and eco-hero. When he first appeared on BBC's Changing Rooms in 2000, he was described as one of the hottest interior designers around, with his approach being fresh and sometimes controversial. He now has several other programmes under his belt as well as a successful design practice and online eco-business.
Influenced by windsurfing, travel and nature, Oliver Heath's application of creativity in both his personal and professional life is inspirational and thought-provoking, particularly with regard to how he applies this to recycling.
After seeing the recent video that he had made for Recycle Now, I couldn't wait for a chance to speak to him about his passion for recycling, how he applies this to his profession and about his particular fascination for glass.
He was also kind enough to answer personal questions about his bin!
When did you begin to take an interest in recycling issues and what was the trigger?
"It’s a combination of different aspects of my life and is something that I’ve been interested in for some time. I grew up in Brighton and growing up by the sea and near the countryside gives you a great appreciation of nature and the delicacy of it."
"I taught windsurfing for about six years as I was studying architecture and I think a lot of what you teach in windsurfing is about how to protect yourself and look after yourself, teaching people some respect for the environment and making them understand that you’re at its mercy."
"When I chose architecture, those messages of respecting the environment, working with it and enjoying it, fed into the idea of the built environment and how we should be incorporating environmental issues into design, so you’re not trying to push nature out all the time but you’re working with the basics and the physics of it."
"Travel has always been a great source of inspiration. I think travel is important as it helps you to understand that the way we live now isn’t necessarily the right way of living. It’s how we have culturally evolved. There are other ways of living that are perfectly valid and I think it is important to understand that we can change and we can be different. There are better ways of living and we may not have it totally right."
What's the top thing that we should all be recycling and why?
"All waste streams are important and have their valuable contribution but I just think glass is one of the more beautiful materials that can put the message across."
"It is very easy to look at a bottle and chuck it in the bin. You could easily say 'that’s rubbish and I've finished with it' but if you were to have 100 or 200 bottles stacked up in a particular way and turn them into a wall of glass, with the light filtered through, you would see the subtle differences in the colours of the glass. You could create something beautiful. There’s a real transformation when you go from seeing one thing that you can easily discard to seeing it en masse and then realise the value of that thing in its quantity, for example the jewel-like quality in glass."
What's the most amazing recycled material in your experience?
"Glass or stainless steel can be recycled over and over again. Impurities in glass can build up, but stainless steel can have a high recycled content depending on where it comes from. It is extremely durable and can be cleaned easily and reused."
What eco-friendly practices do you apply to your professional services at Blustin Heath Design?
"As designers we always encourage our clients to be as environmentally conscious as possible and to consider that when thinking about the budget for each project."
"We work on a variety of different schemes from architecture through to interior and product design. We think about what kind of environmental approach we can impress upon a project to add excitement, reduce its footprint and also to make it interesting and beautiful. Ideally we want people to live comfortably and well, so we think about how we can incorporate a sort of eco-chic luxury into their homes. We also encourage our clients to put money into sustainable items, low energy appliances and into recycling items."
"Whilst we can uphold environmental principles on a day-to-day basis, e.g cycling to work, using public transport or buying our electricity from a renewable supplier, the greater impact we can have is transferring some of those messages into the built environment and using my media attention to highlight those principles to a wider mass audience."
What extra steps do you take to recycle in your personal life?
"A lot of my clothing is made out of my old clothes, which I take to the tailors to be re-modelled. I also buy clothes from second-hand shops and then get them re-cut. The shirt that I'm wearing at the moment is made from an old one that was cut and stitched back together."
"It’s about putting creativity into something and thinking 'what can I do with it?' Can it be something else?"
"A lot of furniture that I’ve made or built at home is made from recycled floorboards, which can be seen in the Recycle Now video. The walls in my bedroom are also made from recycled fencing panels, which have a beautiful aged quality to them. Combining creativity and recycling can create a whole new dimension."
So what's in Oliver's recycling bin at home?
"At the moment I don’t have a garden and we don’t have a composting collection in Brighton."
"I’ve three different sections in my bin. In one there are glass and plastics, which I separate later on, the second is paper and card, then cans. I’ve also got an equivalent-sized conventional bin for stuff that can’t be recycled."
How much do you send to landfill?
"The proportion of what I recycle compared to landfill is probably about 50/50. It’s difficult to say as I recycle absolutely everything that I can and is all dependent on what the council in Brighton and Hove can recycle for me. I often test them by putting more stuff in the recycle bin. It can be quite difficult with plastics and the differences in the many types of plastic packaging is quite subtle, so I always put more things in to see if they will take it."
"On top of that I'm just about to move house, so I will spend a lot of time emptying my cupboards, taking clothes to trade and stuff to charity shops and will try to find other ways to distribute things that we don’t want or need."
So what is the best way to encourage people to recycle?
"Through helping them understand that the things they recycle will become useful objects again and that there is a life beyond how they actually use them."
"You can help people make the connection between something you throw away and what it could become and enable them to stop seeing material as waste and start seeing it as a resource."
Oliver recently agreed to let the Recycle Now team into his home to highlight how easy it is to make recycled products work in a home environment. If you missed the video, here is another opportunity to watch and be inspired.
More information about Oliver Heath and his work can be found at www.oliverheath.com with links to his professional practice Blustin Heath Design and the ethical and eco-friendly shop which he co-founded, called EcoCentric.
Further details about his work with Recycle Now can be found at: www.recyclenow.com/what_more_can_i_do/recycling_made.html
More information on recycling in the Brighton and Hove district can be found on the local council website.