Designed to be degradable

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Products with a short life cycle can be designed to degrade quickly in a composting or bio-waste facility. For example, disposable cutlery used at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was made of cornstarch.


Biodegradable plate

Biodegradable plate
Plate, disposable, sugar-cane fibre, Green Games, Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, made in c.2000.

This sugar cane fibre plate was made by the Australian company, Visy, for use at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

It is an example of the exclusively biodegradable food packaging that appeared at all Olympic food outlets during the Games. It also demonstrates contemporary innovations within eco-design, and reflects SOCOG’s (Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) promise to deliver the inaugural ‘Green Games’.

Around 5000 tonnes of waste passed through the Sydney’s Auburn Waste Transfer Station during each week of the Sydney 2000 Games. Recyclable material was then transferred to a waste management centre at Narellan, and compostable material was sent to a second centre at Eastern Creek. The Eastern Creek Waste Management Centre processed up to 60 tonnes of compost material each day of the Games. This material was combined with shredded green waste, turned and watered regularly, and left until May 2001 to ferment. It was then screened for non-degradable material, and prepared for sale at horticultural markets in Sydney.

To supplement this waste management system, SOCOG sought out new ranges of recyclable and biodegradable cutlery and food packaging. Cardboard cups and food containers, paper food wrap, cornstarch cutlery, and sugar-cane fibre plates became standard items at Olympic food outlets.

After use, they were deposited in specially-coloured bins at waste stations, and transferred to Eastern Creek for composting. Cardboard boxes were also stationed around administrative areas to collect general waste and recyclable materials.

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Biodegradable coffee cups

Biodegradable coffee cups
Coffee cups, (3), 100% biodegradable, cardboard, Green Games, Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, graphic design by SOCOG, made by Visy c.2000.

These 100 per cent biodegradable coffee cups were made from recyclable cardboard by Visy for use at the Sydney 2000 Games. Their maroon and white exteriors feature the Sydney 2000 Fluid Energy motif, and complement the maroon bins that collected recyclable waste at Olympic venues. The cups are important examples of the contemporary innovation within eco-design, and reflect SOCOG’s promise to deliver the inaugural `Green Games’.

Around 5000 tonnes of waste passed through the Sydney’s Auburn Waste Transfer Station during each week of the Sydney 2000 Games. Recyclable material was then transferred to a waste management centre at Narellan, and compostable material was sent to a second centre at Eastern Creek. The Eastern Creek Waste Management Centre processed an up to 60 tonnes of compost material during each day of the Games. This material was combined with shredded green waste, turned and watered regularly, and left until May 2001 to ferment. It was then screened for non-degradable material, and prepared for sale at horticultural markets in Sydney.

To supplement this waste management system, SOCOG sought out new ranges of recyclable and biodegradable cutlery and food packaging. Cardboard cups and food containers, paper food wrap, cornstarch cutlery, and sugar-cane fibre plates became standard items at Olympic food outlets. After use, they were deposited in maroon bins at waste stations, and transferred to Eastern Creek for composting. Cardboard boxes were also stationed around administrative areas to collect general waste and recyclable materials.

See this object in our Collection


Corn flour cutlery

Corn flour cutlery
Cutlery (5), wood, corn flour, Green Games, Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, made by Mater-Bi, supplied to SOCOG by Biocorp, Sydney, 2000.

These items – cornstarch spoons, and wooden knife, fork and spoon – are examples of the biodegradable cutlery that appeared at all Olympic food outlets.

The German company, Mater-Bi, designed and manufactured this material in 2000 for Visy, which supplied the recyclable or compostable cutlery and food packaging at the Games.

It also demonstrates contemporary innovations within eco-design, and reflects SOCOG’s promise to deliver the inaugural `Green Games’.

Around 5000 tonnes of waste passed through the Sydney’s Auburn Waste Transfer Station during each week of the Sydney 2000 Games. Recyclable material was then transferred to a waste management centre at Narellan, and compostable material was sent to a second centre at Eastern Creek. The Eastern Creek Waste Management Centre processed an up to 60 tonnes of compost material during each day of the Games. This material was combined with shredded green waste, turned and watered regularly, and left until May 2001 to ferment. It was then screened for non-degradable material, and prepared for sale at horticultural markets in Sydney.

See this object in our Collection


Cardboard coffin

Cardboard coffin
Coffin, ‘Stately Tree’, cardboard / plastic / metal, designed and made by LifeArt Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2009.

This coffin is an example of an Australian made product that has been designed and manufactured to minimise its negative impact on the environment.

It is made from specially engineered cardboard called “Enviroboard”, which is made from 97% recycled materials and produces up to 60% fewer carbon emissions than regular coffins made from MDF or particle board.

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Jute bag

Jute bag
Bag, shopping, jute, Bangladesh, 1989-1990.

This shopping bag has been made from Jute, not plastic. The slogan on the outside implores shoppers to carry jute, rather than plastic, bags.

Jute is a fast growing grass that produces fibres 1 to 4 metres long. Like linen and industrial hemp, jute fibres are made of cellulose and lignin, so they are very strong.

Bags made from this fibre are durable but biodegradable at the end of their working life.

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The Powerhouse Museum has collected examples of design for more than 130 years. This database shows how some items in its collection meet one or more criteria for design for the environment.

Sustainable design database topics:

Designed for easy reuse
Designed for energy efficiency
Designed for service substitution
Designed to be degradable
Designed to last
Designed to minimise packaging
Designed to use recycled materials
Designed to use renewable resources
Designed to use waste by-products


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