Sustainable design: 7 projects giving trash a new life

in Sustainable Design

Can waste be transformed into something beautiful again?
This is the question that many designers are asking themselves lately. The answer is an encouraging YES, and is inspiring many sustainable design projects!

We’ve always been used to think that producing something is necessarily going to create some sort of residual and just waste. But the design world is now challenging this idea, proving that waste can be reused.
The most fascinating part of the discussion is this deep mindset shift, the idea that nothing is poor simple waste and everything is a resource. (Does this ring a bell? Indeed, that’s exactly the essence of circular economy!)

Read more about circular economy.

This circular approach to the use of trash is inspiring designers worldwide and the results are stunning (and pretty mind-blowing) examples of sustainable design that use different types of waste as raw materials.
Let’s see a few!


Plastic is definitely the most discussed material these days. All design fairs are talking about it and Instagram is full of anti-plastic hashtags (#nomoreplastic #plasticfree #refusesingleuse ...just to name a few). And at the same time, new projects are coming up to save plastic from the status of waste.

For instance, the latest London Design Fair has named plastic Material of the year, calling for innovative ways to reuse it. And these lovely marbled coasters are a great example as they give new life to plastic shopping bags, film packaging and bubble wrap made of LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene).

See the other plastic-recycling projects from London Design Fair 2018.

Top view of a table with marbled sustainable coasters made of recycled plastic.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Weez & Merl (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)

And what to say about these cabinet knobs? Gorgeous, right? Well, they come from plastic found in the ocean!

Cabinet knobs made of ocean plastic.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Spark & Burnish (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)

Talking about plastic and sustainable design, Rossana Orlandi (opened in a new window/tab) has recently launched a very special competition – the Guiltless Plastic Prize (opened in a new window/tab). Designers of all ages and backgrounds can submit their ideas to give plastic a new life. Or – as she would say – to “make plastic guiltless”.
The essence of the prize is well summarized on its website:

"Re-using, recycling and reinventing are the challenges that this prize wishes to bring to the global design community. When transformed, plastic can become a resource with vast possibilities and potentials.”

Rossana Orlandi Gallery will expose the best projects during the next Milan Design Week (opened in a new window/tab) and a jury will choose four final winners. Besides winning a monetary prize, they will also be put in touch with production facilities to bring their product to the market!

Discover the sustainable design examples based on reinventing plastic from Milan Design Week 2018.


Stones, tiles and all kind of construction materials are discarded every day during demolitions. Not a very attractive image indeed…but when reused in a circular loop these materials become beautiful as never before!

Plaster turns into a minimal lamp shade...and what remains after building demolitions makes the bricks of the future!

Minimal white table lamp.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: More (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)
A wall of colourful and sustainable bricks.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: StoneCycling (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)


Food waste is a totally mind-blowing type of waste that can develop into beautiful and sustainable design products.

Take coffee grounds for instance. Lebanese designer Paola Sakr collects coffee grounds from local coffee shops, mixes them with newspaper pulp and a natural binding agent, and voilà, she has created a new set of fully sustainable and biodegradable containers!

Containers with a wooden cap and the body made of coffee grounds.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Paola Sakr (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)

And what about the food waste we all produce at home?
Japanese designer Kosuke Araki produces this lovely tableware out of it!
The process is hard to believe: it all started with a preparation period, where he collected all the food waste he produced at home, resulting with 315 kilograms of stuff after two years.
It's here that the production starts. He burns vegetable waste into charcoal and boils animal bones & skin creating a glue-like paste that he uses to mould the charcoal. Urushi – a traditional Japanese lacquer – is then added to give a shiny finish and additional strength. And the end product has absolutely nothing to envy to the ceramic tableware we're used to, don't you also think?

Black tableware made of food waste.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Kosuke Araki (via SforSustainable) (opened in a new window/tab)

Upcycling waste into new products is only one way to create sustainable designs. For more on this topic, you're welcome to check out SforSustainable (opened in a new window/tab), where I curate a selection of sustainable interior design products!

SforSustainable graphic<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span> (opened in a new window/tab)


Left image in cover by Ishan @seefromthesky (via Unsplash)

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