One of its key tenets is the idea of keeping materials in use. In a linear model, waste is the end point. In a circular model, it can represent the beginning of something new. There is an opportunity to take the legacy of 200 years of linear production and turn it into the starting point for meaningful, long-lasting products—and that’s exactly what a new generation of innovative designers is doing.
Tobia Zambotti and Haneul Kim
If you, like us, have been worried about the burgeoning landfill caused by the pandemic, fear not, help is at hand. Atelier Tobia Zambotti has found innovative ways to employ used face masks—which as medical waste can’t be recycled in conventional facilities—in the form of the iceberg-shaped Couch-19 and Coat-19. The Reykjavik-based designer, whose goal is to tell meaningful stories through bold sustainable projects, stuffed both the pouf and puffer jacket with recycled (and sanitized) masks found on the streets.
Hanuel Kim, a young and upcoming South Korean designer, has also chosen to work with disposable masks: “I make a chair-shaped module that melts, cools, and hardens the plastic mask. Thousands of masks, which were this thin fabric, combine together and finally have the durability of a hard, tough plastic that can function as a stool.” Called Stack and Stack, the project hopes to set an example for how the 129 billion single-use face masks that the world goes through every month during the pandemic can be diverted from ending up in landfill and in our oceans.
When your last name means “hand craftsmanship” in Korean, it seems you have no choice but to follow suit. Designer Donghoon Sohn works with recycled plastic and rather than trying to make it look and perform like original plastic, he exploits its unique characteristics to create a distinct visual language.
For the B.S.P (By product, Solvent, Plastic) furniture series, whose name was inspired by the BLT sandwich, Sohn collects the plastic flakes generated during CNC milling or 3D printing. He then dissolves the pieces in a little ethanol, before mixing them with different colored powders. From here, the ethanol can easily be evaporated in order to once again solidify the material while pressing it between the slabs. “Imagine you are grabbing a sandwich with your hand, this is almost the same situation,” says Sohn. “While the melted plastic solidifies, I apply a virgin plastic plate from each side to create the look of melted cheese.” The resulting, handcrafted furniture pieces embrace spontaneity and happy accidents.
Natural Material Studio
Bonnie Hvillum has created conceptual ceramics from clay made out of powdered seashells from Denmark’s Noma restaurant. The Copenhagen-based designer teamed up with the restaurant, which is known for its locally sourced produce, and ceramicist Esben Kaldahl to develop the seashell-based material. “The essence of the research work lies in my want to challenge our perception of what materials are and can be,” says Hvillum. “The concept of eating shellfish from a shellware plate could help to highlight the importance of integrating sustainability and circular thinking even during something as simple as enjoying a meal.”
The Offset series that HVillum developed with furniture designer Sofia Witterslev feature B-foam—a local, circular, biodegradable, and natural material—along with Douglas fir offcuts. The “offset” changes in the construction of the stools is meant to compliment the variating and unique charater of the foam texture.
What drives change? In the case of Swiss brand QWSTION, it was the desire to get away from oil-based, environmentally harmful synthetics like nylon and polyester for backpacks. The brand collaborated with Taiwanese yarn and weaving specialists to create a breakthrough fabric: Bananatex®, the very first technical durable textile made purely from the fibers of Abacá banana plants, which are organically cultivated in the Philippine highlands. Grown within a natural ecosystem of sustainable mixed agriculture and forestry, Abacá is sturdy and self-sufficient, requiring no pesticides or extra water.
What’s more, the finished products leave no trace at the end of their lifecycle. The fabric is 100% biodegradable, and the component parts are recyclable. QWSTION’s ultimate aim is to offer a viable alternative to the synthetic materials that currently dominate the bag industry. That’s why Bananatex® was conceived as an open-source project, with the goal of encouraging other brands to use it.
Upcycling doesn’t get better than this. Spanish designer Jorge Penadés developed a new material Textile-Clay made out of textile waste and starch, for the Looks Like Magic exhibition during Milan Design Week 2021. For the project, he collaborated with Telelavo, a local startup that deals with washing and processing textiles, mainly for restaurants and hotels. The fluff—fibers that are released and get stuck on the filters of Telelavo's industrial drying machines when they spin—was used by Penadés and combined with starch as a binder employing clay-making techniques to create a series of unique objects. Since Textile-Clay does not need to be fired and glazed like traditional clay, the material is low energy as well as being non-extractive, i.e. it does not take anything from the earth.
In a fine example of circular design, the Ayrton collection by Goldfinger proves that creating furniture can have a positive impact on the planet. The West London brand manufactures bespoke furniture for clients including Inhabit Hotel using only recycled or sustainably sourced wood, to reduce its carbon footprint and minimize waste. The Ayrton series, which includes a desk, chair, bench, and side table, feature reclaimed teak donated by Imperial College London, and Douglas Fir sourced from British trees that were felled to make way for building development.
For co-founder Cudennec Carlisle, “It’s about creating beautiful objects that don’t look recycled. I want someone to say, ‘I want that table,’ even if they are not interested in people or planet. By buying it, they are supporting the social and environmental benefits.” All profits from furniture sales are funneled to the Goldfinger Academy, which offers education programs for marginalized young people, and People’s Kitchen, a cafe that offers free meals to local residents.