Waste gets second life as biomaterials for a circular economy

Palm leaves, corn husks and potatoes are some biomaterials making their way into the hearts of our homes.

The London Design Fair focused attention to these bio-based materials which are made from by-products found in the agricultural industry and their positive contribution to both design and the environment. The fair showcased brilliant examples of work by designers with a keen awareness of sustainable designs. Using a range of by-products, these designers have created functional and aesthetically pleasing designs as furniture and decorative items in fashion, interior design and architecture.

Material: Palm leaves

Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven came up with Palmleather as a cheap plant based replacement for animal leather, plastic and rubber. These materials are sustainable nightmares and hit even harder in the poorer regions of the world.

Palmleather is made by dipping the dry and brittle leave from the Arecae Betel Nut into a custom biological softening solution which turns the material permanently soft, flexible and easy to manipulate. The material can be processed on conventional machines to produce lifestyle items from bags, such as bags, shoes and book covers, with much less pollution and compostable.

Material: Corn husks

Mexican designer and London based Fernando Laposse has developed a new veneer made of colourful husks from heirloom corn, called Totomoxtle.

The husks are peeled off the cob, ironed, glued onto paper or textiles, then cut into small pieces that are reassembled to form a stunning marquetry applicable to everything from furniture pieces to architectural finishes to decorative items such as lampshades and runners.

Laposse hopes to restore biodiversity and revitalise both the crop and the communities that grows it. Totomoxtle helps develop crop diversity as well as creates local employment based on this new craft to ensure farmers can keep planting their heirloom varieties.

Material: Hemp, tobacco and pomace

Founders Johannes Kiniger and Giulia Farencena Casaro of High Society, a sustainable design company located based in northern Italy create plant-based lighting from post-industrial waste. This waste includes: hemp leftovers, pomace, the solid residue that remains after wine production, and the discarded leaves and stalks from tobacco cultivation.

High Society produces three lamp variations: Highlight Hemp, Highlight Wine and Highlight Tobacco. To make the Highlight Hemp pendant, High Society uses industrial hemp leftovers, cultivated without pesticides. For the Highlight Wine pendant, pomace is collected from a local organic winery in South Tyrol. And to make the Highlight Tobacco pendant, leaves and stalks discarded during tobacco cultivation are collected from a supplier in the Venetian region of Italy.

Each unique lamp variation is made using compression moulding with an added bio-based binder, followed by the application of a natural wax coating—this provides a shiny surface and protects the lamp from humidity. Minimal and elegant, the pendants are ideal for both commercial and residential use.

Material: Potato waste

Co-founded by Rowan Minkley and Rob Nicoll, Chip[s] Board is an innovative biomaterial company that turns potato waste into high-value circular economy materials.

Chip[s] Board has produced several innovative and sustainable circular economy materials using potato waste, including Parblex™ Plastics: these translucent pure or fibre reinforced bioplastics can be used in fashion and interior design. Unlike its resin counterpart, Parblex™ Plastics is bio degradable post-use and does not contain formaldehyde or other toxics resins and chemicals.

A sustainable alternative to MDF, the bio plastic is compatible with injection moulding, 3D printing, milling and other industrial processing technique.

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