Recently, students of IE University’s Bachelor in Design had the one-of-a-kind opportunity to visit Parque Tecnológico de Valdemingómez, a concentration of waste-treatment facilities in Madrid.

Below, two students share their experience with us, outlining the all-too-often neglected yet increasingly important role of responsible recycling in design.

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Let us introduce ourselves. We are Sophia de la Cruz and Rafaela Valencia-Dongo, second-year design students at IE University Segovia Campus. From the United States and Peru respectively, we realize that even though we come from different backgrounds, our relationships with waste are the same. Unfortunately, we are both quite unaware of and disconnected from what happens to trash after it leaves our homes, yet being able to analyze and understand this process is key for future designers.   

What did you visit and what was it like?

We visited Parque Tecnológico de Valdemingómez alongside our fellow classmates and Andrea Caruso, Professor of Materials and Applications for the Bachelor in Design. The facilities are situated south of Madrid in Villa de Vallecas, an underdeveloped neighborhood that essentially serves as the capital city’s landfill.

Every day over four thousand tons of waste is brought to Parque Tecnológico de Valdemingómez, where it is sorted, treated, and recycled. Due to a lack of effort by citizens to separate their waste at home, it is down to La Paloma—one of the many waste treatment centers—to recover any recyclable materials found in the rubbish. These materials are then made into a compostable substance or concentrated into square blocks that can be sold to manufacturers.

We then moved on to another center whose objective is to break down the organic waste previously extracted from La Paloma. This particular facility uses anaerobic digestion to produce a substance called biogas, which is made up of methane, carbon dioxide, and various other gases. It is recognized as a very valuable form of renewable energy, given that its production is neither complex nor monopolized by the government or any other agency.

What did you learn from your visit to Parque Tecnológico de Valdemingómez?

The most notable takeaway from this experience would be its role in increasing our awareness of waste and recycling, and how we ought to change our habits. It really showed us how much of an impact not separating our waste correctly can have on the environment. Recycling properly on a daily basis would conserve a lot of space in our landfills and save energy, thereby creating a more sustainable future for the next generation.

Currently, only 34% of waste is recyclable, yet with the active collaboration of citizens, we could increase this to 90%. After familiarizing ourselves with the ins and outs of the center, we feel empathy for the people who spend all day working there, so we would love to see a fully automated system of separation in the future.

What part of the facilities impressed you the most?

Located in the visitor center is a simulation created for younger visitors to learn all about a product’s life cycle—its journey from the convenience store to the trash can. It is a great opportunity to interact with products and increase your knowledge of trash cans and what each one stands for.

How has it helped you with your degree?

As designers, we are constantly creating new products and therefore inevitably generating a lot of waste. It is so important for us to see first-hand the consequences of our decisions when designing so we can be proactive in creating less trash and making recycling easier for the end-user.

We are aware that we live in a throw-away society, and a lot of people are unaware of the processes behind both the creation and disposal of the products they use. As the saying goes, what they don’t know doesn’t harm them. Therefore, it is the duty of designers to work towards making these processes more visible.

Why study the Bachelor in Design?

We love the approach IE University takes to the Bachelor in Design—the idea that design plays a fundamental and interconnected role in the world. We not only learn about product and graphic design but also about sustainability, psychology, and ethnography, which provides us with a comprehensive knowledge of the industry.

Additionally, experiences like this are key to enhancing our innovation skills, broadening our perspectives, and challenging our somewhat traditional mindsets. Everything we have learned from this visit will be compiled into a student publication at the end of the semester.