Just like sea levels and global temperatures, biomaterials are on the rise. Essentially defined as a substance engineered to take a form used to interact with components of living systems, the roughly half- century-old science has traditionally been used for diagnostic or therapeutic procedures. It was only a matter of time before it seeped into the commercial world.
Not to add to the disgruntled folk grousing about consumerism but at the consumption rate we’re speeding through, it’s only natural (ha!) to look to biodegradable matter as a solution to the mounting landfills. Sprinkle a little creativity and these alternative constructs transform into a teeming well of potential. Learn about the intriguing biobased materials from cow blood to cigarette butts, and the creative minds behind them.
BIOMATERIALS: FLOWERS AND CIGARETTES
“Some people compost; others wake up early on Sundays and attend beach clean-up drives. I like to design new materials out of seemingly useless trash,” states Mumbai industrial designer and researcher Sachi Tungare, whose chosen materials littered the streets and bloomed in fields.
The former concept was birthed during an exchange semester in the Netherlands, from the sheer shock at the number of cigarette butts sprawling the pavements. Donning a mask and gloves, Tungare set out to collect her raw material.
“Over the weekend, I collected six bags full; approximately over 2,300 cigarette butts,” she discloses, citing the curious reactions from passers-by and inadvertently spotlighting the grave unawareness of the general public on the matter. That’s 4.5 trillion cigarettes littered worldwide, which is not just harmful to its plastic elements, but the multitude of chemicals and heavy metals absorbed into the environment.
Through dissection and experimentation to allow it to be toxin-free and safe for human contact, the payoff was a wide range of products from organisers, vases, coasters and even paper. Of course, each material poses a different challenge. Her next material’s shelf life wasn’t as long.
Disturbed by the abundance of fresh flowers thrown away from daily prayer rituals, Tungare embarked on the offerings from the bevy of religious traditions and festivities in Indian culture. With more than two million tonnes of floral waste generated across the country every single day, she was certainly not short on samples. The problem was, they would start to rot within two to three weeks.
“This required a shift in perspective—how can I use [the] rotting to my advantage? Rotting is a quality of natural matter, and would mean that the products I design with it would end up naturally integrating with the soil after their lifespan,” Tungare says. Thus, a hotel amenity kit, often composed of single-use items, seemed like the right fit.
“Application on a mass scale is the intention I begin designing with, to make products using these locally abundant, renewable resources and waste streams with environmentally friendly production practices to make a sizeable positive impact.” Tungare does accede that some prototypes are complicated to replicate on a larger scale, but so far, several hotel chains have shown interest in the kit.
“Circular economy is the future, and design is an integral part of the process to eliminate the waste and regenerate natural systems. The product design of today needs to account for its impact on the environment during its entire life cycle, right from the manufacturing processes, to its use and afterlife,” she emphasises. “It should be understood that we have to be in it for the long haul, and that sustainability should be more than just a greenwashing trend.”