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6 Circular Design Ideas Upcycling Food Waste For Interiors

Topic: Sustainable Design
6 circular design ideas upcycling food waste for interiors

In sustainable design, there are two main ways to approach the choice of materials. The first takes the direction of circular design, giving new life to any kind of waste. The other begins from natural resources, using them to create innovative biomaterials.
The food industry is responsible for creating a lot of waste that – if looked with positive eyes – is a rich resource for sustainable design!

The link between food and design has been discussed in general terms during Milan Design Week 2019 at Salone Satellite (the event dedicated to designers under-35). With the theme Food as a Design Object, Salone Satellite wanted to highlight the overall contribution that design can give to global nutrition challanges, through its ability to connect traditions with new technologies.
Likewise, designers have looked into the food industry and come up with sustainable designs that make use of different kinds of waste. So here are 6 projects applying the principles of circular design to the food industry and creating biomaterials out of trash!

View of the SaloneSatellite entrance.
Credit: @morgandotydesign via Instagram


The most common way to get rid of food waste is composting it. But when put in the right hands, food waste can be upcycled into precious biomaterials that can then suit several applications.

PensieroMateria circular design

Designer: PensieroMateria by Luca Alessandrini and Henry&Co

PensieroMateria is the founder of the Italian Manifesto of Bio-Design, whose aim is researching biomaterials for sustainable design. So far they’ve worked with tomatoes, mushrooms, coffee, corn, clay and oranges. They’ve presented some of their projects at Salone Satellite, and I would have never guessed what they were made of if they didn’t tell me!

Arco2020 is a lamp made out of Wascoffee: a biomaterial derived from coffee grounds that were provided by Autogrill, the company that owns the majority of motorway service areas in Italy…and therefore makes a lot of coffees every day!

Arc-shaped lamp made with coffee grounds, sitting on a table.
Credit: PensieroMateria

Tomato peels sourced in Sicily are at the base of another biomaterial, that has been 3D printed in the shape of little crates and other kitchen utensils.

Circular design kitchen utensils: a plate, cutlery and a small crate made out of tomato peels.
Credit: #pensieromateria via Instagram
Close up of the tomato peels biomaterial.
Credit: Luca Alessandrini

And then, the stunning Peel chandelier. This one is made of orb: a biomaterial that upcycles orange peels and other organic waste. What’s interesting is that – since the binder used is also organic – this material is actually edible! No guarantee that it would taste any good though...

Circular design chadelier made of an organic waste-based biomaterial.
Credit: PensieroMateria
Close up of the organic waste-based biomaterial.
Credit: Luca Alessandrini

Re.Bean Coffee Stool

Designer: Melbourne Movement

Coffee grounds are a very abundant resource that normally goes to waste. But when mixed with a binder, they can become a strong and versatile biomaterial. The Australian collective Melbourne Movement has sourced coffee grounds locally and used them to make a stool that is fully biodegradable and actually smells like coffee! This project was clearly keeping with the theme of the event, and indeed it won the Intesa San Paolo Prize at Salone Satellite.

Circular stool made out of coffee grounds.
Credit: Melbourne Movement (via ElleDecor)

Organico casein glue

Designer: Philipp Hainke

In his Organico project, Philipp Hainke has mixed casein with lime and water, creating a glue to keep hemp fibres and shives in place. The result are fully bio-based panels that can be used as a starting point for several projects. For example – when mounted on a steel structure – they become the Halo chair, that earned the second place at Salone Satellite Award.

Chair with seating made with hemp panel bonded together with a casein-based glue.
Closeup of the hemp-based material bonded with a casein-based glue.
Credits: Philipp Hainke

Jelly Joint candies glue

Designer: Philipp Hainke

This project is not really using waste, but it’s still very well responding to the Food as a Design Object brief. Philipp Hainke has experimented with gummy bear candies and noticed that they become extremely sticky ones heated. So sticky that they would actually work as a glue! He therefore produced a bench for Salone Satellite using only gummy bears glue to assemble the pieces! And for the sake of the experiment, he used more glue than necessary, so the leftovers spilling out of the joints double as decoration!

Close up of the wooden pieces kept together with a candy-based glue.
Wooden bench kept together with a candy-based glue.
Credits: Philipp Hainke



Despite being the first one that comes to mind, food waste is not the only type of waste generated by the food industry. And circular economy principles can be applied throughout, upcycling any unused material.

Kobe cowhide leather

Designer: KuliKuli

Kobe is a Japanese town famous for its meat. And when talking meat there’s a lot of waste involved. For example, cowhide normally goes to waste. But KuliKuli thought differently and created leather out of it. This material can fit a number of different applications and its broad potential earned it the first prize at Salone Satellite Award!

Close up of the cowhide-based leather.
Credit: KuliKuli (via ElleDecor)

Nebula banana fibre lamp

Designer: Studiomirei

Agricultural waste is certainly one of the biggest sources of waste in the food industry. For example, the stem of banana plants used to be trashed, but not anymore. When properly peeled, the bark of banana trees can become a fibre. Thanks to its various thicknesses (that change according to the part of the stem it comes from), banana fibre is suitable for textile applications in all industries, from design to fashion. A great design example is the ethereal Nebula lamp shade, that received a special mention at Salone Satellite Award.

Ceiling lamps made of banana fibre.
Close up of the banana fibre.
Credits: Studiomirei (via Instagram)

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