Juliane Fink Makes Edible Dog Food Bowls From Pig Bladders (Circular by Design, Design Milk)
Juliane Fink studied literature and linguistics and worked as a linguist before starting to study Industrial Design at the University for Applied Arts Vienna in her late twenties. She now works as a graphic and industrial designer in Vienna – and has created a collection of single-use dog bowls from pig bladders that the dogs can eat as part of their meal.
Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability.
I grew up in the Austrian countryside, with an extended family that’s been working in and around small-scale agriculture for generations, so becoming a designer occurred to me relatively late. I started to study industrial design in my late 20s and finished in my early 30s (after working as a linguist for a couple of years). I think growing up around hands-on, practical people has shaped my work as a designer considerably; I learned a lot about finding practical (and creative) solutions for concrete problems and I really enjoy being in a workshop and building prototypes myself. Where I grew up also really shaped my view on sustainability, especially regarding food: regionality and food quality have always been important in my social environment.
How would you describe your project/product?
The product is a single-use dog bowl made from pig bladders. It utilizes a waste product from meat production that’s naturally waterproof and foldable to make a bowl that’s lightweight and robust and can be easily carried around in your pocket. After its use as a dog bowl, the product can simply be eaten by the dog – leaving no waste behind.
What inspired this project/product?
I’ve always struggled with the ethical and environmental problems around raising animals for meat and I strongly believe that if we, as a culture, consume meat, we should at least use every part of the animal and not waste anything. This led me to think about undesirable parts of the animals that are usually thrown away and one of those is the animal’s bladder. Bladders are a typical waste product of meat “production,” but if you look at them as a material, they are pretty versatile: they are naturally waterproof, making them ideal for food/water bowls, they can be molded like leather and easily dyed. They also taste delicious to dogs, which makes them the ideal material for a dog bowl that can be eaten after use.
What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them?
I source the pig bladders for the dog bowls from a butcher and an agricultural school. I selected them for several reasons: I like using something that’s considered “dirty” and unappealing and making it something interesting and new. I like showing that it’s worth working with these materials and seeing their value. Even though they are unfamiliar to us today, animal bladders have been used historically for a wide array of objects, from footballs to waterproof document containers. On a more technical note, I used pig bladders rather than cow bladders, for example, for two reasons: firstly, their size is ideal; when molded, they are around the size of an average dog bowl. Secondly, pigs are one of the most slaughtered animals in Europe and I wanted to demonstrate the huge quantity of waste we could be reusing.
When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision?
I have always struggled with my role in the production of waste as a designer, and within the last few years have focused on using waste as a raw material wherever possible. I think the sustainability of products is one of our core responsibilities as designers. I also find it extremely gratifying and fun to turn something “useless” into something useful again.
What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product?
I get the bladders in their raw state, unwashed and with the ureter still attached, so the very first step is to wash and clean them of any excess parts right away. As long as the bladders are fresh, they only smell a little, but it’s definitely important to process them quickly, because they tend to get an unpleasant smell after a couple of days if they are not processed further. I wouldn’t call them dirty, but it definitely took a while for me to get used to handling raw animal parts. It’s something humans are not used to anymore, especially the parts that are not commonly used as food. After washing, the bladders are dyed, either with food coloring or with natural dyes. After that, the bladders are stretched over molds, in a similar way to how leather or wool is typically molded. As soon as they are dry, they are taken off the molds and ready to be used as bowls. When they are dry, they have a parchment-like quality. They are pleasant to touch and can be folded.
What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy?
The dog bowl is designed to be eaten by the dog after its use, so it leaves no waste behind. One of my favorite aspects of the project is that, for the dogs, it’s just an additional snack and after a couple of bites the bowl is gone. In my tests, the dogs always ate the bowls completely!
How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype?
I loved it!! It was extremely exciting and gratifying because the raw material is something we consider dirty and view with disgust, so to make that into something useful and beautiful felt great. When I started out, I sometimes thought to myself “Why did you choose this unpleasant material?” so to see it transformed into something beautiful made it all worthwhile. One of the highlights of the project was also every time a dog reacted excitedly to the product and when a veterinarian told me she loved the product.
How have people reacted to this project?
I think the first reactions to the project were mostly surprise mixed with either curiosity or disgust at the raw material. It’s interesting how the different points of processing elicit different emotions: Most people were fascinated with the finished product and liked its look and feel, but the raw material sometimes weirds people out. But most people are really open to it and were interested in examining it more closely – sometimes even giving it a sniff!
How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?
I think they have been changing for a while, and no one thinks it’s strange anymore if you show them something you made from waste. Even with a relatively controversial waste product like pig bladders, people see why it makes sense to make new products out of it. Many people struggle a lot with the ethics of meat “production” and agree that that’s even more of a reason to use absolutely every part of an animal and let nothing go to waste.
What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material?
I’m convinced waste as a raw material will play a huge part in the future; it already does today. On the one hand, simply out of necessity and for economic reasons, on the other hand, because it’s such a joy to transform something that’s considered waste into something useful and beautiful. I see so many designers and consumers around me who care about what resources are used for their products, so I think using waste as a raw material will be a completely normal way of making products.
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