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Sustainable furnishing

Recycling furniture is pointing the way to the future

Natural raw materials, sustainable production and innovative business models: the furniture industry is becoming increasingly sustainable and is thus reacting to the increasing environmental and quality consciousness of customers. The focus is now also increasingly on recycling furniture. They provide residual materials and even household waste with a second life, are in some cases biologically degradable and even look really good. Can they fundamentally change the industry?

The "Chamfer" furniture collection of the start-up WYE is manufactured from a wood material of industrial waste. (Photo: WYE) More about the manufacturer at ambista .

From waste wood furniture to plastic recycling

Through intensive trials and the actual use of recyclable materials, an ever increasing number of alternative resources have been made available for furniture production. All the things that are now suitable for material recycling thanks to technological progress and innovative processes would have been nearly inconceivable some time ago.

The German start-up WYE , for example, lends waste wood furniture entirely new significance: the two founders have developed their own wood material from industrial waste products and manufacture purist, modular items of furniture from it.

Recycled paper and cartons are also finding a second life in new items of furniture, as the ROOM IN A BOX start-up, with its beds and shelves of recycled corrugated cardboard, demonstrates.

That plastic no longer needs to pollute the oceans and destroy animal life is shown by many examples of recycling furniture of plastic packaging and marine plastic. The Dutch furniture manufacturer Vepa, for example, produces high-quality seating with felt made of PET bottles that are fished out of canals and the ocean. The young design student Alexander Schul had the idea of melting old yoghurt containers into thin plates with Terrazzo visuals . For this, he received not only the Ro Plastic Prize 2019, but also support from the Smile Plastics company. Up to 100 percent recycled lamps and side tables originated from the cooperation.

"Felt" chairs from Vepa

The Dutch company Vepa produces the high-quality "Felt" felt chair of recycled PET bottles . (Photo: Vepa)

"Bed 2.0" from recycled corrugated cardboard by ROOM IN A BOX

The ROOM IN A BOX start-up manufactures sustainable furniture of recycled corrugated cardboard. (Photo: ROOM IN A BOX)

Natural furniture from recycling material

However, not only packaging waste serves as a useful raw material for recycling furniture. Food waste is also ideally suited for material recycling. Cafés produce mountains of coffee grounds that can produce harmful methane gas in landfills. Among others, the Kaffeeform start-up makes use of these and has been collecting coffee grounds from Berlin cafés and roasters since 2015. From this, they produce permanently useable to-go cups and espresso cups that are even dishwasher-safe.

The furniture industry has also developed a taste for coffee: the designer Joshua Renouf developed the world's first piece of furniture made of recycled coffee in 2019 with Smile Plastics. In his blog , Renouf tells more about the elegant couch table as the first of many cooperation projects. The Zuiver company also showed how stable recycling material made of coffee grounds is. Also in 2019, the designers used 42.5 percent coffee for the shell of the cult Albert Kuip chair in a special edition.

Even the seeds in fruit have great recycling potential. They can be collected as waste material in the food industry and reused. The Swiss company Uniquefloor manufactures durable floor coverings made of nutshells or apricot pits instead of rubber granulate. And the "Persea" hanging lamp from designer Kathrin Breitenbach consists of a material of ground avocado stones.

Upcycling: the material defines the design

While several designers and furniture manufacturers produce individual articles of furniture from recycled material, others entrust their concepts entirely to the principle of the circular economy.

Like, for example, the Spanish-Italian designer Patricia Urquiola. Instead of asking how she can design an item of furniture sustainably , she lets herself be guided by materials and their specific properties – "form follows fabric", so to speak. Her seat socks of recycled furniture fabrics , for example, thus originated in this way. She is happy to leave her comfort zone, try out something new, and sometimes fail with it for the sake of her work. She sees errors as essential components of the creative process. And that is exactly what is needed to renew the furniture industry and other industry branches from the ground up.

Another example is provided by the brothers Humberto and Fernando Campana from Brazil. They work more unconventionally, acquire inspiration from nature and the street. From old rugs, stuffed animals or household devices, they design ideas for new lamps or chairs . Ideally they prefer to apply the collage technique. In this way they reflect life in the favelas of their home country of Brazil, which is characterised by poverty, and where extremely creative solutions arise out of necessity.

Recycling as a guiding principle for building

A rethinking seems to be taking place in building. Whether natural raw materials, which can once again be returned to the cycle, dispensing with non-biodegradable adhesives or recycling stones from leftovers: cradle-to-cradle projects like the experimental unit UMAR demonstrate the direction in which the industry can change.

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