Industrial production generates an unfathomable amount of waste. These designers are thinking circular to create new offerings from underutilized byproduct materials. 

The numbers are staggering. 16 million tonnes of waste are estimated to be generated each year by the EU’s textile industry alone according to a 2017 statement by the European Commission.

In 1950, 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste was produced around the world per year – by 2015, that number shot to 322 million tonnes, reports the European Parliament; in the EU, only 30 per cent of that plastic waste is recycled, the remainder incinerated or sent to landfill. And 40 million tonnes of copper slag is made annually. These are but a few of the harrowing statistics which have helped drive designers to work with byproduct and recycled materials, in a bid to bring more sustainable, circular-minded objects and furnishings to market.

Here are 11 design products and collections that utilize such materials, showing the innovation to be found in exploring alternative means of production.



Rashmi Bidasaria

Rashmi Bidasaria collaborated with Hubli, India recycling steel scrap foundry Southern Ferro Ltd to develop Dross, a project that focuses on utilizing waste byproducts of the molten iron processing industry, such as steel slag, ramming mass and residual heat. Bidasaria designed new objects using industrial techniques and scrap objects found in the foundry’s waste pile: ‘The artifacts created through this process are meant to start a dialogue about the consumption of materials and manufacturing processes by allowing room for thought to develop a more responsible sense towards use of resources,’ she says.


Photo: Michael Mann


Konstantin Grcic for Magis

Aiming to achieve a product with an ‘almost closed material cycle’, Italian furniture brand Magis looked to its own consumption and to designer Konstantin Grcic. The Bell Chair is entirely constructed from recycled polypropylene sourced from Magis’ production waste and that of the local car industry. The cycle doesn’t stop there: the contemporary Monobloc chair design can be recycled in its full form after use.


Photo: Alberto Santomé


Omayra Maymó for Heineken

The team at Heineken briefed Spanish architect and designer Omayra Maymó to create a piece for them had a relationship to the brand. That’s how Malta I was born, a pedestal aptly made with barley waste from the beer-brewing process: taking the residue and binding it with cement, Maymó was able to form an inorganic-organic composite structure. ‘Among other improvements such as higher thermal insulation and strength,’ the designer-architect explains, ‘these new formulas help reduce the large carbon emission produced by traditional cement manufacturing.’



Studio ThusThat

Sourcing their waste material from Belgian copper recycler Metallo, multidisciplinary design collective Studio ThusThat have released a furniture collection dubbed This is Copper. A collaboration with KU Leuven’s Sustainable Materials group, the collection illustrates how byproduct copper slag can be used as an alternative cement, comparable in strength, having a lower carbon footprint and resistant to heat, acid and water. The team made a range of interior pieces, including a chair, mirror, tiles and a lamp.


Photo: Peer Lindgreen


Tom Dixon

Geometric forms are stacked upon each other to comprise Swirl, multidimensional, functional sculptures by Tom Dixon. The pieces are manufactured using powder residue form the marble industry – this substance is mixed with pigment and resin to transform into ‘blocks of material that can then be sawn, sliced and turned on a lathe’, explains a spokesperson for the studio.


Photo: Inna Kablukova


Harry Nuriev

For Design Miami 2019, Balenciaga tapped artist, architect and designer Harry Nuriev of Crosby Studio to design a one-off, environmentally conscious sofa using damaged or otherwise unsellable clothing and offcuts from the collections of past seasons. Nuriev – who also collaborated with Balenciaga for The Office, a Design Miami 2018 installation – was inspired by the form of an over-stuffed recliner. The sofa, weighing in at 150 kg, is built using the textiles, foam, transparent, biodegradable BOPP film, a plywood base and metal legs.


Photo: Andrea Ferrari


Giorgio Bonaguro for Tacchini

Inspired by midcentury Brazilian furniture design and modernist architecture Giorgio Bonaguro has introduced a new line of Joaquim tables for Tacchini. In fact the simple lines of the tables are an homage to Joaquim Tenreiro, ‘considered one of the fathers of modern tropical design’. Tackling the project by embracing the principles of upcycling and sustainability, Bonaguro designed the metal-framed tables to be a way to salvage off-cuts.



Barber & Osgerby for Emeco

On & On, a collection of chairs and stools by Emeco and Barber & Osgerby, was designed with the next – recyclable – generation of café seating in mind. With lightweight frames made of 70 per cent recycled PET, 10 per cent non-toxic pigment and 20 per cent glass fibre, the collection is suitable for outdoors and in. A representative for Emeco says that the company is ‘currently working on a chair-to-chair program where customers can return old chairs’, then using that material to make new chairs – all in America.



Carsten in der Elst

Carsten in der Elst was motivated to ‘emphasize the moral and ethical responsibility of a product designer’ with Heavy Duty, a range of natural stone furnishings. Working with Lindlar, Germany quarry Otto Schiffarth, the designer used reclaimed slabs of monolithic stone to construct the pieces, ‘honouring every bit of these limited and valuable materials’.


Photo: Marco Covi



Italian furnishing company Arper teamed up with Lievore Altherr Molina to develop the Greenguard Gold-certified Duna 02 Eco chair. Its plastic shell is made from 80 per cent recycled post-industrial material and its base is comprised of four wooden legs. ‘Where possible we integrate new recycling methods into our work,’ says a spokesperson, ‘and offer products made in part from recycled materials.’



Nataša Perković

The Reclaimed Oil Palm Project, started at the Kyoto Design Lab, is the result of a brief Nataša Perković was given to develop a new design material from cellulose waste and demonstrate its applications with material scientists. Perković and the scientists blended oil palm fibre micro powder with polylactic acid for a strong, biodegradable composite material; a stackable chair for public spaces showcases its durability and ability to be used for injection moulding and 3D printing.


Read more roundups here.