When only one percent of all materials produced are still in use six months after creation, it’s no wonder industrial designer and social entrepreneur Nate Bastien is digging into “junk” on its way to the landfill.
“Junk” is a vital element in Nate’s design and business model. Nate is an industrial designer with a keen understanding of materials and a predisposition for helping people in need while protecting the environment. It’s the primary reason he’s using our trash to design helpful products like “Street Packs” for the homeless.
“As soon I began to learn the skill set required to design and develop products I wanted to give back to my community by applying that skill set to helping others,” said Nate.
Change Agent Nate is helping people through his project Local401 and he plans to offer the Street Packs on a buy-one-give-one platform, meaning for every one purchased he will donate one. So far, he’s garnered some pretty important help from Timberland and Samsonite.
Back to the beginning, Nate launched Local401 in November of 2008. It’s a project where waste, scrap and recycled materials come to life in sustainable—and very useful—products for marginalized communities. Inspired by the waste-less cycle of the natural world, Nate is dedicated to creating products with a manufacturing system with little to no waste.
The ability to spot a greater purpose for “junk” materials is an incredible talent Nate honed while studying industrial design at RISD. While studying, the grandeur of the waste in the US didn’t hit home until Nate stood atop the highest point in Rhode Island, the Johnson Landfill during a class field trip. As he stared down at years of trash he saw resources for fold-able bikes for urban commuters, portable “assemble on site” oxygen tanks for hospitals in developing countries and Street Packs for the homeless.
“My inspiration for the project [Street Pack] is the countless number of individuals experiencing homelessness who I have made friends with, ate with, slept outside with, learned from, and designed with in the past year,” said Nate. “What we came up with is the Street Pack, and a unique business model that enables a quality sustainable product to reach the hands of the individuals that need it most, but are the least likely to be able to afford it.”
Nate’s ability to use waste materials makes the Street Packs affordable. For example, scrap vinyl from advertising billboards will shelter homeless people, for free. Not only is it free, but also waterproof and durable—two things necessary for protecting people who live outside with the elements.
How does Nate know waterproof and durable materials are essential to building the Street Pack? He knows because he lived as a homeless person for days on end testing them and taking the time to understand the needs of the homeless community.
“The Street Pack is a low cost yet highly functional backpack that was designed with and specifically for individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Nate. “Some of the features that make the Street Pack unique are a roll down closure to keep water out and eliminate zipper failure, and a customizable external storage system enabling the ability to add on in any direction. Also, instead of using foam padding in the back panel of the pack, I integrated a thermal blanket into the back panel which functions as padding when the pack is worn and an emergency shelter when removed and unfolded.”
Nate is in the final stages of putting together a test group who live on the streets to use them and give feedback on improvements. While the last batch of prototypes is tested, Nate continues to strive to change the design focus to sustainability and reusing materials.
Curious about what’s up next for Nate? Show support for one man helping shelter and protect the homeless. Read more about Nate on Changents.com.