Design TED Fellows

Dust to dust: TED Fellow Adital Ela makes products from compressed dirt

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In this talk from TEDxJerusalem, TED Fellow Adital Ela shares her journey in sustainability. While traveling in India, she came across a chai vendor who sold his tea in small, clay cups that patrons could use and then simply toss on the ground when they were done. These cups didn’t create any waste, because it was earth returning to earth. This sparked a question for Ela: “How can products, like people, come from dust, and return to dust?”

Ela held this question in her mind for 10 years. Her exploration of it led her across many Middle Eastern countries on a mission to make products out of compressed earth and agricultural waste. A self-proclaimed designer-gatherer, her title is as organic in nature as her found materials.

Terra-stollsEla’s first product for her line, Terra by Adital Ela, was a stool made from dirt heaps that construction sites had dumped in the forest. Upon sharing this innovation with her father, she learned that she wasn’t the first in her family to make use of the earth this way. Her Iraqi grandmother had made her own oven from dirt turned to clay. This solidified Ela’s mission: to combine her heritage with the science of production for ultimate sustainability.

Making a Terra stool creates no pollution. It requires no energy and uses only local and organic materials. If a stool is no longer useful, the owner can simply leave it in the garden and let it deteriorate back into the earth. Or they can add water and mold it into another functional object.

But these stools are only the first step for Ela. She wants to teach this technique for making objects to others. This means not only selling Terra kits, with recipes and molds. She is also preparing to launch a pilot program in Jerusalem of Terra workshops, which she hopes will spread in a franchise-like manner, Eventually, she wonders: could this be a source of income for income deprived communities?

Read more about TED Fellows and their fascinating projects here »