Circular economy and zero waste were amongst the big buzz words before the coronavirus sadly became the nearly all-consuming topic in recent weeks. Sustainability may have taken a backseat in public discourse, for the time being, and yet it has never been more important to reconsider how we want to use our resources.
Standing in a field of fluffy cellulose fibres on Labour Day, as I helped my brother build his house this bank holiday weekend, I found myself thinking about waste materials and the meaning of sustainability as a whole.
Cellulose, derived from paper waste, has excellent thermal qualities. Naturally moisture-regulating, this recycled material only needs mixing with mineral salts and milling to become resistant against rotting and fire. Available in abundance, it is also a more affordable alternative, than many other natural materials for floor insulation, such as hemp or wool waste products.
Insulation materials may not draw as much attention on Social Media, than uber-styled, zero waste personal care flat lays. However, choosing sustainable building materials has potentially a much higher impact on our environment. This is not to say the many small personal efforts, people make towards a bigger goal, are not beneficial. I just wish we looked at sustainability more holistically.
As I was evenly spreading the cellulose fibres my mind wandered to other waste materials, that impressed me in recent years. I remembered seeing Jessica den Hartog´s ‚Recoloured‘ prototype series, for the first time in real life, during the London Design Festival 2018. Since then, the material-forward designer has evolved to become a sustainable plastic expert. She has collaborated with numerous creatives, to give a new lease of life to post-consumer plastic waste.
As opposed to industrially recycled HDPE (a type of plastic often used for household detergent containers etc.), which is fused to form a grey mass, Jessica manually sorts the waste plastic by colour. Using the inherent pigments she develops a beautiful portfolio of textures and products obtained from waste material.
Secondly, Dirk Vander Kooij´s ‚Meltingpot‘ series popped up before my imaginary eye. It is another fabulous example of urban mining (extraction of valuable materials from landfills). This detail shows the mesmerising effect created with polycarbonate sourced from thrown out CDs. Unfortunately, the CD has been an invention like many others, rendered obsolete within a decade, and billions will remain in landfills for many years to come.
Dirk Vander Kooij crafts captivating furniture, suited for indoor and outdoor spaces, public and private alike. The designer describes the result as waste being ‚affectionately remoulded into indestructible tables‘. His collection also sports unique chairs and benches. As I prepared the cellulose to fit under the floor, I realised Dutch design studios have been particularly strong in delivering innovative surface design lately.
Still, designers upgrading waste to something precious is a global phenomenon, that has grown exponentially in recent years. My hands-on experience, working with the cellulose fibres, prompted me to remember many more naturally sustainable material innovations. One of them is ‚Totomoxtle‘, a veneer offering an intriguing and sustainable alternative to wood. Mexican product and material designer Fernando Laposse works with corn husks, an ordinary by-product in agricultural farming, to create refined, highly aesthetic designs.
Similar in essence, Israeli designer Shahar Livne´s ‚Meat Factory Bio-Leather‘, derived from slaughterhouse waste streams, utilises blood, fat and bones, which are usually just discarded. Although the vegan debate has gained momentum in previous years, global meat consumption is steadily rising.
Remembering the bio-leather brought me back full circle to my childhood, where I often spent time at my grandmother‘s organic milk farm, close to the house we currently build. I was the only vegetarian in my family since I was five years old. Nevertheless, back then it was the most natural thing in the world to watch my grandmother produce black pudding, innards specialities and sausage. After a cow was slaughtered (usually one a year) most parts were processed, as it was indispensable for small farmers since the beginning of time. These days wastefulness as a status symbol is rejected by a growing number of the general global population in theory, yet not fully lived.
To summarise, I believe true sustainability means we all need to see beyond our personal preferences and the simplified interpretation of trends. Sustainability does not just mean natural. Sustainability does not just mean plastic-free. Sustainability does not just mean vegan. Sustainability means actively supporting circular models, responsibly working with the resources we have. We need to think of all the waste created as a side product every day and re-use the base materials, once a product has reached the end of its lifespan. In a complex world, it is too uni-dimensional to just hope for a one-fits-all solution for sustainability. Valuable materials can come from the humblest of sources and products associated with a negative image.
Sometimes it needs a monotonous task like insulating a floor, to spark the idea of writing a blog article on some of the materials I discover during my research work. As a design consultant and trend forecaster, I specialise in balancing newness with sustainability and commercial viability. I closely monitor emerging tendencies in interior, material and surface design, which I predominantly share with other industry professionals. But as sustainability can´t take a backseat any longer, despite the Covid19 crisis, I want to share more insights with a broader audience.
Contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org if you need support on choosing the right materials, colours and finishes for your next project or your product ranges.