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Rethinking resources

If we can reframe our ideas about waste, we will have taken a significant step towards a thriving circular economy – one that can meet the needs of the present, while ensuring that future generations can meet their needs too.

Waste is important because it impacts so many environmental issues. “Think of an environmental problem, and chances are it’s connected to waste. That includes climate change: It happens because we burn fossil fuels and scatter the waste—carbon dioxide—into the atmosphere.” senior environment editor, Robert Kunzig points out in his National Geographic cover story in March 2020.

And if you needed any more convincing, listen to David Attenborough:

“Stop waste. Stop waste of any kind. Stop wasting power. Stop wasting food. Stop wasting plastic. Don’t waste – this is a precious world.”

Unlike natural ecosystems, which operate in cycles—plants grow in soil, animals eat plants, dung replenishes soil—our industrial economy is largely linear and in a linear economy, waste is the endpoint; the full stop.

A circular economy demands systems and products that don’t generate waste at all – the ultimate aim. But as a starting point, if we recategorise waste as a raw material, turning it into the beginning of something better, we can slowly start to bend that straight line around into something more circular. And that’s exactly what a generation of designers and makers is doing.

We take a look at a small selection who are rethinking their resources…

Ana Cristina Quiñones

Inspired by the indigenous people of her native Puerto Rico, Ana Cristina Quiñones has made a series of vessels from organic waste. She hopes to echo the imperfection found in the natural world and demonstrate the beauty of waste.

Materia Madura is a furniture and vessel collection made from an innovative material derived from plantain and coffee waste – two of Puerto Rico’s cultural staples. Inspired by the indigenous Taíno culture from Puerto Rico and their prehistoric artefacts, this project offers an alternative to agricultural waste and recycling with a non-toxic, sustainable, locally sourced, and biodegradable material.

Basse Stittgen

Hannover-based Basse Stittgen champions design as a transdisciplinary approach to improve and challenge contemporary issues and identifies a fascination for material as the driving force behind his work.

And it was this preoccupation which led him to examine the possibilities of food waste. One-third of all food per year is lost or wasted which includes eggs that have a short shelf life and whose fragile shell is not the most suitable protection against processing and transport.

Basse is turning these damaged and b-stock eggs into egg cups. Egg whites and shells are thermoformed into bio-plastic cups with zero additives and the content becomes a container, an egg cup is produced from discarded eggs. A product that explores the extraordinary materiality of an ordinary item of consumption.

Dirk van der Kooij

Best known for his playful extrusions of reclaimed synthetics, Dirk van der Kooij melts down anything he can get his hands on – CD cases, agricultural tubing, chocolate moulds, even his own prototypes – which he then presses into furniture and lighting that tell stories of their origins.

The idea came about as a way to use his own waste but has become so successful he is now taking in local businesses’ plastic waste too.

As a craftsman, he is attracted to the irrevocable histories and textures possessed by found content. As an inventor, he favours the simplicity of self-evident production.

With a total of six vortexes serve to refract and diffuse light, the Bloown chandelier is a starry display of unlikely origin: reclaimed rooftop tiles, CDs, and chocolate moulds.

Konstantin Grcic for Magis

Aiming to achieve a product with an ‘almost closed material cycle’, Italian furniture brand Magis looked to its own consumption and to designer Konstantin Grcic.

Made from recycled polypropylene obtained from the waste generated by Magis’ own furniture production and from that of the local car industry. The patented material excludes almost all “virgin or new” materials and can be recycled again 100% after use.




The New Raw

The New Raw want to empower a whole city using robotic 3D printing with recycled plastic to develop and implement circular design concepts of high aesthetic value and societal impact.

Their ‘Print Your City’ initiative in Thessaloniki explores the possibility of using the city’s plastic waste in order to build public space with robotic 3D printing and citizen’s involvement. The idea is showcased with a temporary installation of a series of 3D printed street furniture that is made from household plastic waste and robotic 3D printing.

The collection of 3D-printed public furniture always includes a bench, but citizens can choose the colour and add features such as a tree-tub, a bike rack, a water bowl for a dog, and even bookshelves. Their print-on-demand system both reduces waste and encourages recycling.

Simón Ballen

Simón Ballan is concerned with the narrative agency of objects and views design as a carrier of cultural knowledge that can make use of the local realities, to create objects for discourse and empowerment. And, as unlikely as it may sound, he uses waste gold in his glassware.

Jagua is the crushed ore that is leftover from gold mining, and even once it has been chemically treated to remove as much gold as possible, there is still a little left. Jagua is typically dumped into rivers, together with those chemicals, causing pollution downstream.

In collaboration with local craftspeople, Simón used Jagua to colour hand-blown recycled glass, demonstrating its value and keeping it out of the river.


Studio Thus That

Guillermo Whittembury, Joris Olde-Rikkert, Kevin Rouff and Luis Paco Bockelmann – who make up Studio ThusThat – began studying the potential of secondary resources, in a bid to realign our perception of waste.

Bauxite Residue, a.k.a. Red Mud, is a byproduct residue of the alumina industry. More than two parts of red mud are produced for every part of aluminium. This means that over 150 million tonnes are produced each year, and left unused in giant pits.

Working with factories and research labs, this industrial residue is transformed into ceramic bodies and glazes by Studio ThusThat to question our notion of ‘waste’ and demonstrate the value of secondary materials in a world of finite resources.

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Categories:Interiors & Lifestyle