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Alternative raw materials

Furniture made from leftovers and electrical waste

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The climate crisis and supply chain problems are leading to a shortage of materials in many sectors. The interior design industry is already looking for solutions and, in some cases, turning to innovative materials and alternative resources. However, there’s still a lot of untapped potential. Read on as we look at the materials that will play a role in shaping the future of interior design.

Pineapple cultivation produces tonnes of leftover leaves as a by-product

Pineapple cultivation produces tonnes of leftover leaves as a by-product – their fibres can be used to make vegan leather, which can serve as an alternative raw material. (Photo: Piñatex, CC BY-SA 4.0 on Wikimedia Commons)

Innovative products based on waste

Sustainability and resource efficiency have long exerted a creative influence on innovation in the interior design industry. The two issues have become global macro trends and will have a lasting impact on both the design and the production of furnishings. Developments so far include biodegradable furniture as well as furniture made from algae , hemp and other renewable raw materials .

But the story doesn’t end there. Consider the problem of waste disposal and the growing mountains of rubbish all around the world. Every day, we throw food waste, scrap electronics and other by-products into our dustbins. These items are still not recycled to their full potential – if at all – although this is possible in principle and, above all, makes good sense. In fact, many types of waste are suitable for use as innovative materials for the interior design industry.

BY-products for furnishing

As well as preventing food waste from accumulating, using by-products and waste can result in the creation of new furnishings. (Photo: Sri Lanka on Unsplash)

From food waste to building material

According to Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, approximately 11 million tonnes of leftover food is binned in the country each year. That’s a vast amount of waste. Some start-ups and research teams have been looking into the matter and thinking about how they could prevent food from becoming waste.

Ottan Studio from Turkey collects fruit peels, out-of-date cereals and other scrap plant material – basically, waste that would normally be composted. The company then uses this resource to produce furnishings. The benefit is obvious: this approach doesn’t consume any new raw materials.

Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo are pursuing a similar idea and have developed a resilient building material made from fruit and vegetable waste as an alternative to concrete . The research team working on the Smart Materials project at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Genoa is also experimenting with food scraps. The researchers are attempting to produce bioplastics from rice husks, vegetables or cocoa hulls. The resulting product is either rubbery or solid.

What are pineapple leather and flax fibre?

Another exciting strategy involves the use of by-products. Many waste materials are generated by the tonne simply through the production and cultivation of plant-based foodstuffs, such as flax, pineapples and rice. And they’re more valuable than you might think. Manufacturers are already using them to produce textiles as well as materials of interest to the interior design industry. The reason for using these materials is to minimise the impact on the environment.

One product that is particularly well-suited to the production of outdoor furniture is flax fibre, which is obtained from the stems of the flax plant and made into very fine textiles. Flax fibre has antistatic properties, repels dirt and keeps out moisture. Ananas Anam , a company based in Spain and Great Britain, demonstrates how a leather-like material can be made from pineapple leaves. It uses these by-products of the pineapple harvest to produce Piñatex®, a strong, water-resistant pineapple leather. Rice husks, on the other hand, are a by-product left over from harvesting rice. Resysta has taken advantage of this resource to create a wood substitute similar to tropical timber, which is very popular. However, producing this material puts no further pressure on forests.

bB-products and leftovers

Striking, characterful pieces of furniture can be produced from by-products and leftovers. (Photo: Sahand Babandi on Unsplash)

Furniture made from electrical waste

The more often people buy, use and throw away digital devices, the more the mountains of electrical waste grow. By replacing our gadgets as frequently as we do, we’re generating a substantial amount of e-waste and scrap – more than 48 million tonnes worldwide every year. It’s a genuine problem of the digital age – and in many cases, the equipment contains toxic substances such as lead, mercury or cadmium. To prevent these poisons from seeping into the groundwater and soil, they must be disposed of in an environmentally responsible way. So the problem is twofold: production consumes resources and disposing of the waste causes at least as much environmental pollution. The objective must therefore be to either repair electronic devices or recycle as many of their parts as possible.

The Italian company Kartell shows that this waste can also be upcycled. It has developed the A.I. chair, which is made of 100 per cent Riciclato , a recycled thermoplastic technopolymer – in other words, plastic waste. Another company, Pentatonic, has launched the Airtool chair, which is made from individual parts of smartphones and plastic bottles.

Alternative raw materials: a future trend

Innovative materials aren’t just sustainable, they’re also very popular with consumers. That’s because customers are very keen on environmentally friendly and resource-efficient products when it comes to modern furnishings. They also want to avoid food waste. It is therefore all the more important for the interior design industry to remain open to experimentation. In addition to food leftovers, by-products of food production and electrical waste, plants are among other potential sources of raw materials.

Are you keen to discover the latest innovations in the interior design industry? Keep up to date with the magazine by imm cologne newsletter .