From broken sanitaryware to marble offcuts and used tea leaves, designers across the UK are applying new innovation to redundant resources, not only to tackle a crisis, but also to bring a magical charm into the home.
‘If you’re not buying recycled products, you’re not really recycling,’ actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr once proclaimed. That said, buying recycled furnishings hasn’t always been an easy option. However, thanks to ground-breaking artisans across the globe, the interiors world is finding new ways to confront the current waste crisis.
According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 222.9m tonnes of waste was created by the UK in 2016 and 52.3m tonnes of it ended up in landfill. As this is a direct contributor to the devastating impact on our global climate, the UK responded in May this year, becoming the first country to declare an ‘environment and climate emergency’.
The topic is at the forefront of worldwide conversation, and rightly so, with the aim of reaching net zero emissions in the UK by 2050. While achieving a waste-free society is the goal, reducing the vast sums of discarded materials across the planet is a significant place to start.
Jane Withers, a design curator, consultant and founder of Jane Withers Studio (janewithers.com) which raises awareness of environmental issues and inspires change through design, affirms,
‘It’s critical that designers and manufacturers take responsibility for the lifecycle of materials, taking into account what happens after a piece is discarded and how the material value can be retained. This has to become part of the design brief from the outset.’
Creating this circular mindset should also be adopted when designing a ‘greener’ home. Be it investing in an antique or restoring an heirloom that will be passed down through the generations, it’s important to buy pieces that endure.
To add to this, a timeless design made from waste gives us a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ solution. ‘The conscious consumer can have considerable impact individually and collectively,’ Jane continues, ‘and we all need to take responsibility for our choices, while empowering designers to drive change.’ Though raw materials themselves may not seem attractive, the end results are proving to be visually outstanding, making our participation in this much easier. Reworking them with expertise creates a new appeal, and incorporating them into the home can add wow-factor and also bring meaning and purpose into the story of a space.
Kings of the Stone Age
Preston-based surface and tile maker Alusid (alusid.co.uk) prides itself in using manufacturing materials that are deemed too complex to dispose of. With its claim never to use less than 98 per cent recycled materials in any design, Alusid is the creator of SilicaStone – an architectural surface composed of glass, ceramic and mineral waste. Founded by Professor David Binns and Dr Alasdair Bremner, the company was formed in 2015 following a research project at the University of Central Lancashire, where their aim was to investigate new methods of using waste on large-scale surface areas.
SilicaStone is created through a process known as ‘sintering’, which binds the materials together using heat or pressure. This means there is no binding agent such as resin or concrete and, unlike any of the conventional ceramic processes, a much lower temperature is used. The versatility of the product is irrefutable. It can be ground, polished and glazed in the same way as granite and, because of its naturally fire-resistant and UV-stable qualities, it can be used indoors and out. Not only suited to surfaces, it can be moulded for furniture too, with a wide colour range available.
For David and Alasdair, being a ‘sustainable’ brand is more than creating something with recycled materials. Offcuts and dust from their own production is returned into the fabrication process and, when an Alusid product reaches the end of its lifespan, it is reworked to enjoy a second life as a new tile. Not only does this circular system benefit the environment, it also means that, financially, they generate more from the materials they use.
David claims the opportunities are limitless with the material, stating: ‘So far we have only skimmed the surface in terms of what might be possible.’ The latest release is their first commercial tile range in collaboration with tile specialist Parkside. Formed in the same way as SilicaStone, the new collection, titled ‘Sequel’, uses broken glass from kerbside findings, damaged sanitaryware and glaze left over from the ceramic industry. Combined with crushed soda-lime glass and water, they are then sealed using handmade glazes by David himself. Offered in three colours, these tiles are perfect for the kitchen and bathroom.
East London design house Marble Partners (marble.partners) works with marble offcuts, which it salvages right across London, transforming them into eye-catching sculptural items and furniture. Retrieving waste from construction sites, factories and homes across the city currently provides enough supply, although Marble Partners would love to start working with the quarries directly as it says this is where the bulk of waste takes place.
Co-founder Mia Castenskjold highlights that she and her partner started the brand in response to the wastefulness they had witnessed first hand when trying to create a table for their own home. This forced them to tackle the issue with an inventive approach.
The company’s debut collection launched in 2018 with three tables and a range of sculptural objects. Mia’s partner and co-founder Stefan explains: ‘We like to create a desire for the piece aesthetically before customers realise the sustainable qualities. Today, designing and making in a sustainable manner should be a given and it’s our responsibility to ensure consumers don’t have to compromise on style.’
Presenting a patchwork design across their tabletops with marble from different backgrounds, they aim to celebrate the beauty of diversity and imperfection. ‘Even though this is our signature style,’ Mia adds, ‘we want to experiment further with more tonal combinations to showcase the brilliance of simplicity too.’
The offcuts they use have been discarded for a variety of reasons. Some may be considered too small, others are rejected due to a lack of storage space or the inconvenience of relocating them, and some have been vetoed due to scratches, discolouring or minor cracks. Marble Partners seeks to work around these apparent imperfections and give each stone a second chance.
Looking to the future, Mia says, ‘We will concentrate on optimising our production, saving as much marble from landfill as possible and maybe teach others the age-old craft of working with stone.’ Constantly streamlining their own production, they are working on ways to use their own waste, as well as developing environmentally friendly packaging. The weight of marble is an obvious obstacle making transportation difficult so, to combat this, their larger tabletops are assembled in sections. Their passion for marrying design with functionality and sustainability is a positive example of how a circular mindset can lead to
A Nation of Tea Drinkers
As much as marble may seem an unexpected source of waste, Matthew Grant and Michael McManus decided to focus on a material a little closer to home when they set up DUST London (dustlondon.co) two years ago. After months of experimenting with organic substances they began working with tea waste which, according to government body WRAP, amounts to 370,000 tonnes in Britain each year. By mixing tea with a non-toxic binder to create a ceramic form they discovered that a range of beautiful colours could be achieved. For example, Peppermint gave subtle green hues, whereas Rooibos and English Breakfast produced warmer, earthier tones.
In creating these planters, vases and coasters, they want to prompt people to think about how we brew our tea, encouraging us to opt for loose-leaf varieties. Recycling the bag and the leaves together, DUST partners with cafes and offices in its local neighbourhood of Elephant and Castle in London, retrieving as much tea waste as it can. The current collection is inspired by traditional origami.
Matthew and Michael are keen to explore other waste supplies too: ‘We want to challenge the way we perceive design and start discussions to ensure it isn’t bringing more waste into circulation.’
The desire to continue researching into further avenues of waste is also true of Eleanor Nadimi, the textile designer and founder of homewares brand One Nine Eight Five (onenineeightfive.co.uk). She finds delight in her discoveries saying, ‘It’s lovely not to have to compromise on design or quality by using a material that would have been thrown out.’
Mindful of the implications when designing a new product, she assures everything she makes is done in a fair and conscious way. To create her throws she uses recycled cotton salvaged from offcuts in garment factories. These are broken down into fibre and spun again into yarn, which is then woven into her exquisite creations. ‘I think it’s really nice to have the crossover between fashion and interiors, given how wasteful the fashion industry can be,’ Eleanor explains. ‘When dealing with waste we have to look beyond our own industries and work collectively to create a wider circular economy.’
She is constantly refining her methods and techniques and is developing a cloth that looks and feels like linen but is in fact constructed out of plastic bottles. ‘I don’t like the word ‘waste’ as it usually has negative connotations and the association with it can sometimes devalue the product in people’s minds. But I think that mindset is slowly changing. I try to use ‘waste’ wherever I can, as the results are just as good as working with virgin materials.’
Line of Beauty
While these designs are proof of progress, the issues around waste still exist and it is more important than ever to ensure sustainability becomes an intrinsic part of design and doesn’t remain a short-lived trend. Henrik Marstrand, founder and CEO of Mater (materdesign.co.uk), started working with waste materials over a decade ago and, to him, the aesthetic must run parallel with sustainability. ‘As consumers and architects, we prioritise aesthetics above everything. We decode design with our eyes and our sense of beauty, therefore we must have a determined focus on launching collections that deliver on aesthetics with no compromises. But, as manufacturers, we must seek new, responsible materials that play to the strengths of these designs and incorporate them from day one.’
Salvaging and recycling dates back centuries… here are 5 of our favourite pioneers in early waste management
In the early 1800s, Thomas Hancock founded the British rubber industry. However, early into his career, he recognised the vast quantity of waste he was creating and sought a solution. In 1820 he created his ‘Pickling Machine’ (now known as a masticator) to shred the waste rubber for use in other formats, one being artificial leather.
American Monroe Wertheimer started his company, Longview Fibre, in the late 1920s, after noting the waste wood produced by a large sawmill. He then used the surplus to create paper and containerboard, as well as being the first to use sawdust in paper manufacture.
In 1946, the BA3 chair by Ernest Race was exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The revolutionary design used materials such as recast aluminium from redundant aircraft, and upholstery from recycled RAF lightweight cotton duck fabric.
The restorer and TV presenter talks about one of his design heroes, Ernest Race – the man who made chairs out of aeroplanes…
The restorer and TV presenter talks about one of his design heroes, Ernest Race – the man who made chairs out of aeroplanes…
Charles Macintosh, in the early 1800s, was trying to find uses for waste products generated by gasworks when he used naphtha, a byproduct of the distillation of coal tar, as a solvent for rubber. By sandwiching this between two layers of fabric he formed the material of his iconic ‘Macintosh’ jacket design.
Around 1813, Benjamin Law invented ‘The Shoddy Process’. Rag and bone men would collect old clothes and rags that he ground and respan with fresh wool into yarn. By 1860, his local town of Batley in West Yorkshire was producing over 7,000 tonnes of recycled woollen material a year.