Engineers without Borders Norway, Field Ready, The Polyfloss Factory > Waste For Warmth:
Waste for Warmth: Upcycling Plastic
Waste to Tackle the Harsh Winter
Conditions in Turkey’s Refugee

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The Waste For Warmth project was formed to help displaced people deal with harsh winter conditions. The idea? To turn plastic waste into winterization solutions. The team used design thinking to gather further insights and improved the prototype with iterative user tests.

by Kokoro Kuroiwa


There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and millions more refugees are seeking temporary shelters in the region. The region’s cold climate condition during winter threatens their lives. They burn trash and whatever they can find to generate warmth, although they are aware of the health risk. Local governments and many NGOs also take measures such as distributing blankets, stoves and fuel. Nonetheless, it is challenging to provide more cost-efficient and long-lasting aid.


Engineers without Borders Norway, Field Ready and The Polyfloss Factory formed the Waste For Warmth project with the aim to create a solution for the harsh winter conditions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Stakeholder map

Stakeholder map to identify the needs to focus on in the project.

Out of the various holistic needs in the region, they focus on three needs: warmth, waste and local work opportunities.

Warmth Waste Local work opportunity
Safe and long-term solution for the region’s cold climate conditions in winter is needed. 8 million tons of plastic waste is generated in the camp region annually as a byproduct of humanitarian responses. Local work opportunity is needed so that refugees can generate income. Also, this reduces the shipment cost of materials and negative environmental impact.

The Waste For Warmth team’s idea was to turn the plastic waste in the region into tent insulations with a technology called Polyfloss.

  • The insulations can be placed in the shelters to keep the warmth
  • The wasted plastic in the region will be upcycled into the insulation.
  • The refugees can participate in the manufacturing, which means they can generate income and reduce the shipment cost.

The question was… Would the idea work for the Syrian refugees in Turkey?
Here, the Waste For Warmth team created prototypes of the idea and tested them in various settings.


The team conducted three tests and a design thinking workshop for functionality and manufacturing of the plastic insulation from the plastic waste.

When What to test How
February – March 2021 Feasibility of the insultations Prototype test by the team and two Norwaygine families.
June – August 2021 Feasibility and desirability of the manufacturing Pilot user testing of manufacturing with Syrian refugees in Turkey
September 2021 Iteration of the insulations and manufacturing Design thinking workshop with professionals and other stakeholders
November – December 2021 Feasibility and desirability of the insulations and manufacturing Continuation of the pilot user testing of the insulations and manufacturing with Syrian refugees in Syria and Turkey

February and March 2021: Prototype test for the feasibility of the insulation

  • Test description

The Waste For Warmth team set up a full-scale insulated shelter and non-insulated shelter on the grounds of Oslo’s Technical Museum of Norway. This test was intended to assess whether the insulations can create a warmer shelter under the actual winter conditions. Besides the team members, two Norwegian families volunteered for the test, spending several nights sleeping in the insulated tent to give feedback on its warmth.  

Also, the team gathered firsthand data on the winter conditions by lying in tents for several hours in Oslo’s current 30-degree (°F) (= −1℃) temperatures.

  • Insights from the test

After analysing the data from the test, Catherine Hebson, a Field Ready engineer, said, “There needs to be a lot of discussion about how these will be manufactured and how to best attach the insulated walls. We also need to examine what happens with conductivity, air circulation and ventilation with people in there.”  

Throughout the test, the team members got some inspiration for other potential insulation uses in other products, such as mattresses and floor panels to protect those sleeping on a tent’s floor.

  • Waste for Warmth

June-August 2021: Pilot user testing for functionality and manufacturing

  • Test description

After the first test for the feasibility of the insulations under the actual winter conditions, the Waste For Warmth team conducted a second test in Gaziantep, Turkey. The objective of this test was to assess the feasibility and desirability of the manufacturing.

From June through August 2021, six people were employed. They operated the Polyfloss machine and manufactured insulation panels. 

  • Insight from the test 

The testing was continued until the third test in December 2021.

September 2021: Design thinking workshop to work on prototype improvements with professionals

  • Workshop description 

Ghiath Hawari and Kinda Almeamar from SABR Business Design in Gaziantep facilitated the three-day design thinking workshop to share insights and brainstorm prototype improvements. People from more than 15 groups participated in the workshop: designers, engineers, aid workers, students, individuals who have lived in tents and experts who work in plastic management. They asked questions, discussed and mulled solutions.

  • Insights from the workshop

Workshop participants found out that they needed to focus more on the problem of bad weather: It makes living in the tents extremely uncomfortable and can damage the tents. Refugees are often not able to pay for the repair costs. Moreover, the bad weather damaged the tents and refugees often can not afford the cost to repair them.

The participants generated ideas to improve the panels’ manufacture and distribution as well as the panels themselves. The Waste For Warmth team planned to iterate and distribute them to Syrian refugees and in other countries where needed.

Susan Long, Field Ready’s Middle East regional lead, reflected on the workshop, stating, “we’re taking an iterative approach to design that inspires ideas, helps teams to avoid mistakes and results in better, faster and cheaper interventions.”

Design thinking workshop

Design thinking workshop to work on prototype improvements with professionals


November-December 2021: Pilot ground user testing for functionality

  • Test description

Continuing from the second test in June-August 2021, five people were employed for the manufacturing of the insulation panels from November until December 2021.

The insulation panels produced in Gaziantep were installed in 13 shelters (approximately 65 people) in North-western Syria.

  • Insights from test


The primary feedback from the recipients of the insulation panels was positive. One recipient shared, “after my house was insulated with these panels, I felt warm inside and started to turn off the heater in the evening.” The Waste For Warmth team anticipated that the recipients saw an increase in indoor temperatures under the winter conditions thanks to the insulation panels and they were able to reduce their fuel consumption and costs for heating.


The Waste For Warmth team worked on the need to adjust the Polyfloss machine to better serve the humanitarian context. There is a need to ensure the safety of the insulation panels used in tent shelters through tests such as fire testing.

The Way Forward

How do they plan to move this project forward after all these tests and the workshop?

The original roadmap of the solution development.

The original roadmap of the solution development.

Although COVID-19 made the development of the insulation products and the machine more challenging for the Waste For Warmth team, they have been improving their panels and the machine based on the insights towards implementation.

When Updates Next steps
October 2021 Selected to move onto the Scaling and Diffusion program within Innovation Norway’s Humanitarian Impact Programme. Planned to continue finding interested project partners who are ready to adopt the Polyfloss technology to produce vital winter insulation materials.
January 2022 Granted 1.5 Miliion Kroner from the Norwegian Retailers Environment fund. Planned to get more machines operating in the field with the fund.
May 2022 Project trip by Karl Ove Ingebrigtsen, chairman of Engineers without Borders Norway, carried out. The team worked on the challenges of protecting the operations of the manufacturing machine from

  • Getting burned on hot surfaces
  • Getting caught or injured by rotating parts of the machine
  • Being exposed to toxic gases when plastic is heated
  • Being exposed to plastic dust during production
  • Being exposed to noise, etc.

The Waste For Warmth team is continuously testing and iterating its products to make tomorrow better for Syrian refugees.

If you liked "Engineers without Borders Norway, Field Ready, The Polyfloss Factory > Waste For Warmth", these stories might also be of interest to you:


Field Ready. (2021, October 4). Shelter by Design Thinking. Field Ready.
Innovasjon Norge. (2019, December 19). The Humanitarian Innovation Programme Waste for warmth. Innovasjon Norge.
Field Ready. (2021, March 4). Waste For Warmth: keeping out the cold with plastic. Field Ready.
Waste for Warmth. (n.d.). Waste For Warmth | Local plastic recycling for insulation solutions. Waste for Warmth. Retrieved April 11, 2023, from
Sadi, M. (2022, January 15). Syrian Refugees And Harsh Winter. Minhaj Welfare Foundation.

The Authors

Kokoro studied law in Tokyo. She worked on design thinking projects at HPI School of Design Thinking in Potsdam and Innovation & Entrepreneurship projects as a University Innovation Fellow at Stanford University Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.

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