From lamps made from their own packaging to buildings that use ice cream bucket cladding, here are projects that are making circular economies the new normal.
1 Turning Textile Dust into Usable and Durable Materials for Walls and Furniture
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but for the Danish company Really – makers of a new type of panel board composed of end-of-life textiles – invention was the result of overabundance. According to Really co-founder and long-time sustainability advocate Wickie Meier Engström, only 25 per cent of recyclable fabrics ever see a second life, and there is zero market for used industrial laundry – think hospital bed sheets and hotel towels. “We thought there must another option,” says Meier Engström.
The initial plan Meier Engström shared with co-founders Klaus Samsøe and Ole Smedegaard was to make furniture out of reconstituted offcuts. That was followed by the idea of a composite that could also work as acoustic panelling. The trick was to find a way to break down cotton textiles – which are typically harder to recycle than metal or plastic – without creating a whole new manufacturing process. After extensive testing, the team landed on airlaid manufacturing (commonly used in making napkins or diapers), in which layers of fibre are formed into a non-woven, homogenous pad. For the Really panels, a blanket of airlaid post-consumer cotton is sandwiched between two sheets of coloured cotton, mixed with plastic binder, and then compressed into dense, 7.8-millimetre-thick boards. These outer layers give the planks one of four colourways. Reprocessed wool roll-ends, for example, give the surface an ivory hue, while denim imparts a familiar blue.
The resulting boards are as durable as planks and comparable to teak in weight and density, but offer two distinct advantages over wood: Because there is no grain, the planks are more uniform, and they don’t splinter. Even the surface feels soft and tactile, like washi paper.
Early in the development process, the founders sought out Danish textile manufacturer Kvadrat as a logical partner for supplying pre-consumer textile waste. Kvadrat now owns a majority stake in the company and has been crucial in signalling that, although the product is upcycled, it doesn’t compromise on quality. During Milan Design Week this spring, Kvadrat showed off Really’s potential by commissioning Max Lamb to explore the material. The London designer responded with a custom collection of 12 benches featuring, variously, sharply mitred edges, grids of half-lap joints, or routered grooves for gently curved surfaces. “It’s an intriguing material,” Lamb says. “At first, you don’t quite know what it’s made of, but once you know it’s textile, it makes sense. There’s a warmth that comes from those origins.” And at the end of its life, notes Meier Engström, “we can mill it all over again.” Really is now available in Europe and parts of Asia.
2 The R16 Task Lamp, Made from its own Paper Packaging
A 1.2-metre cardboard tube arrives in the mail. You pop the cork, pull out and unravel the
electrical cord and two suspension cables, pin the internal LED bulb in place, switch it on, and voila: What was once a package is now a product.
Called R16, this all-in-one fixture is a reminder of one of McLuhan’s most popular maxims – the medium is the message. Designed by Waarmakers of Amsterdam, it is the studio’s latest environmentally conscious product that reduces waste by a novel method. A few years ago, the studio caught media attention for Goedzak, a half-yellow, half-clear, bio-based polypropylene bag that can be used for items that are too good to be simply thrown away. When left curbside, the Goedzak’s bright yellow presence signals to passersby that there might be something in there worth taking home.
“The Dutch word ‘waar’ means ‘truth,’ and it’s the singular term for ‘stuff’,” says studio co-founder Maarten Heijltjes. “We loved the double meaning; it was also a way for us to put some pressure on ourselves: With a brand name like that you get called out if you’re not delivering on the promise.” Heijltjes and partner Simon Akkaya, who met at Delft University of Technology, bonded over a shared dislike of school assignments. “We both had difficulty finding inspiration designing products that we did not believe the world needed.” After Goedzak, they came up with Be.e, a frameless e-scooter built primarily out of natural fibres including hemp. “We try to suggest alternative views on matters that are important to us – sustainability, social responsibility, the meaning of material possessions – and to express those values in our designs,” says Heijltjes. R16, which is now being sold online for €200, addresses the excesses of packaging.
The studio’s next mission is to figure out how to make rail travel more attractive by offering travellers a more positive experience. It developed a quiz that was unveiled at Dutch Design Week that passengers can play on their phones, encouraging interactions, questions about their surroundings and competitions.
3 A Library in Indonesia Turns Ice-Cream Buckets into Cladding
For all its dynamism, the neighbourhood of Taman Bima in Bandung, Indonesia, struggles with illiteracy and a lack of reading facilities. In an effort to bring reading to the area, the government asked Dutch firm SHAU, which has a local office, to build a 160-square-metre micro-library that would be visually striking enough to lure people in, and that could be realized on a micro-budget. To provide both shade and cross-ventilation, SHAU conceived a latticed facade and, after scouring the neighbourhood, came up with an ideal, if unlikely, material: used ice-cream buckets. Roughly 2,000 of them, tilted to keep rainwater out, cover the box-like library, which perches on stilts. Whole tubs are arrayed with ones that have had their bottoms cut, spelling out a message from the mayor in binary code: “Books are the windows to the world.”
4 Using 3-D Knitting Technology, Benjamin Hubert Makes a Chair that’s Light as Air
Less than a decade after Nike’s Flyknit trainers introduced 3-D knitting to the mainstream, the digital technology is now poised to transform the world of furniture. Chairs with 3-D-knit backs began appearing last year, but it took Layer’s Benjamin Hubert to deliver Tent, a chair prototype that boasts a unified, 3-D-knitted seat, back and sides. Rather than stitch the upholstery of these components together, Hubert worked with Moroso to weave 50,000 metres of recyclable nylon into a single, seamless piece with virtually no material wasted – even the padding is woven directly into the seat and back. The resulting garment slips like a sock over a flat-pack steel frame, its sides tensioned by loops of high-performance sailing rope.
5 Leftover Spools of Yarn Become Carpets
To keep waste to a minimum, Swedish rug maker Kasthall manufactures all its yarns to order – but even this process results in leftovers. “We make a few extra spools in case we need to redo something during the production process,” says in-house designer Ellinor Eliasson. “And our high quality requirements mean we can’t risk even minor colour discrepancies.” Eliasson’s proposal for these residual yarns takes cues from traditional Swedish rag rugs: Sorted into six colour groupings, the spools are used to weave durable rugs, with a new spool added at random when the previous one runs out. The results, launched at New York’s ICFF in May, are unique – unplanned fields of shifting colour trimmed with matching edges.
7 Kitchen Cabinetry that Taps the Vast Supply of Water Bottles
Ikea is hardly the first global manufacturer to identify plastic bottles as an untapped resource. The trick has been to re-engineer the readily available material on a large scale and still maintain a consumer-friendly price point. Earlier this year, the Swedish furniture company broke through with a fully recycled kitchen cabinetry panel; each 40-by-80-centimetre piece is made from 25 water bottles and reclaimed industrial wood. Called Kungsbacka, the panels and complementary Hackås hardware are by Form Us With Love, who also aimed for a fashion-resilient look – another ingredient for extending the life of products. FUWL’s creative director, John Löfgren, compared the system’s fuss-free lines to a fashion basic: “We wanted it to feel like a black T-shirt, one that’s tuned to fit right, be practical and still be precious.” Kungsbacka and Hackås hardware are now on the market.
8 Pleated Clothing that Expands as a Child Grows
As part of his graduating thesis, aeronautical engineer Ryan Mario Yasin of London has solved one of the most confounding problems facing parents: how to keep a growing child in clothes that fit. The average baby goes through six size changes by the time they start to walk. Yasin discovered this when he bought clothing for his nephew as a gift – by the time he gave it to him, he had already outgrown it. That experience led to Petit Pli, a patent-pending pleated fabric that grows, keeping a child between six months and three years old in water- and windproof pants and shell. The pleats have even been pressed in a way that lets crumbs fall off rather than lodge between the folds.