‘The resources we need are no longer in the ground, but in landfill – a circular economy is our only option.’ (Dezeen)
Take Aimee Bollu for example. This Nottingham-based designer-maker collects ‘the detritus of the urban landscape’ – rubbish to you or me – and slip-casts or hand-turns vessels to suit each found object, elevating it from street litter to objet d’art. The gallery-quality pieces challenge our perceptions of what we throw away.
Dutch designer Sanne Visser has worked out that there is one natural material that only becomes more abundant with population growth – human hair. She cycles around London hairdressers collecting their waste, has it spun into yarn, makes the yarn into rope and then uses knotting, macrame and weaving techniques to make bags, nets, climbing cords and even a swing.
London-based designer Yinka Ilori sees discarded chairs, not as waste, or even just as furniture, but as objects with the power to change perspectives. If Chairs Could Talk is his collection of five seats, each made from combinations of discarded pieces, that tell the stories of his childhood friends – lawyers, actors and those caught in a criminal justice system they’ve lost all faith in. For Yinka, the longer an object has been around, the more it has to say.
As unlikely as it may sound Simón Ballan uses waste gold in his glassware. Jagua is the crushed ore that is left over 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, Ballan used Jagua to colour hand-blown recycled glass, demonstrating its value and keeping it out of the river.
For Tobias Juretzek of Studio Nito, unwanted clothing carries not just environmental, but emotional, baggage. By shaping used garments into chair forms, he hopes to capture the memories they hold and demonstrate the value of the things we discard, reframing our perception of waste and making us think twice before we discard something old only to replace it with something new.
Have you ever heard of a b-stock egg? Of the 1.1 trillion eggs laid every year, these are the ones that don’t make it into the egg boxes on supermarket shelves, because of their shape, size or colour. Hannover-based Basse Stittgen is turning them into egg cups, not because he thinks the world needs more egg cups, but because he wants to make us aware of the hidden waste in food supply chains and do something about it.
Inspired by the indigenous people of her native Puerto Rico, Ana Cristina Quiñones has made a series of vessels from the organic waste created by the consumption of plantain and coffee – two of Puerto Rico’s cultural staples. She hopes to echo the imperfection found in the natural world and demonstrate the beauty of waste.
Dirk van der Kooij melts down anything he can get his hands on – CD cases, agricultural tubing, chocolate moulds, even his own prototypes – and turns it all into a candy-like mish-mash of colours, which he 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.
And finally, The New Raw want to empower a whole city. If you recycle your plastic in Thessaloniki in Greece, you can decide what you want it to be turned into. Their 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.
It would be a stretch to suggest that these projects alone offer the solution to Kunzig’s ‘mother of all environmental problems’, but they do suggest a different way of thinking. If we can reframe our own ideas about waste as these designers and makers have, 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. And in all honesty, we don’t have a lot of choice – or a lot of time.
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