Materials can be recycled, re-processed, renewed and reduced. Designers have a crucial collaborative role to play, for material development to continue to have less impact upon the environment. Up to 90% of the material that we throw away is recoverable. Someone somewhere has the imagination and the ingenuity to turn this rubbish into a resource.
Based upon research initiated in 1994 by Jakki Dehn M.Des.RCA; Reader in Sustainable Design at Kingston University the REMATERIALISE library now houses over 1,200 materials which either use less non renewable resources or come from renewable resources. REMATERIALISE is a unique, sustainable materials library and online resource, that offers innovative material solutions which can have both economic benefits and less environmental impact.
“It’s not a matter about treating waste; to me, it’s a very serious matter about efficient use of materials.” David Dougherty, American Advisor to the UK government in an interview on waste management with Jakki Dehn. He was speaking out against the combustion of waste; in his view materials are more valuable given a longer life
The over 1,200 samples with many different origins from crushed scallop shells, airplane windscreens, denim jeans, banana tree fibres, mobile phones, nettle fibres and sunflower seed husks tempt architects, designers and researchers to visit the library and develop new uses and markets for materials that are often at an early stage of their life. The selection criteria include Materials that use less non-renewable resources, that are often with recycled content, are easily renewed, have been overlooked, have aesthetic potential, are in production or have the potential to generate new business. REMATERIALISE is perfectly placed within an educational institution. Students are excited by new materials and are concerned as designers to reduce their impact upon the environment. Now housed at Kingston University in the UK, the library has become a catalyst for collaborations between education and industry. Manufacturers can test their ‘Blue Sky thinking’ with the students and the students can test their ideas in the real industrial world.
Designers and materials
Good designers understand the value of material and their enduring optimism drives them to take a risk and try things out. These material investigations have had unexpected benefits for the environment. Following are some examples.
Annelies De Leede, a Dutch designer investigated the use of recycled ceramics. She found that she could make thicker pots without the concern of cracking and wastage in the kiln because some of the clay had been fired before.
“They said in this little factory that it was quite amazing that I could make such a thick bowl……normally because of the shrink, it breaks, it would not work, but because there is so much waste in it, it doesn’t break.” Annelies De Leede
During the process of developing ways to recycle ceramics, the Institute of Ceramics in Japan found that they could achieve the same results with recycled content and fire at a lower temperature thus saving energy.
Designed by Jedco and manufactured in the UK by Tilon Composites, the development of this recycled polyethylene and recycled glass fibre scaffold plank, not only showed for the first time that using recycled materials was more cost effective; it also led to the building of a brand new manufacturing plant creating substantial new employment.
“I think that it was probably our enthusiasm that carried it through to the latter stages” – John Elson, Jedco Design
Unexpectedly they then discovered a brand new market in the offshore oil industry. The wooden planking on oil rigs is saturated with fire retardant which reacts with the salinity in the sea and rots the timber. The timber planks have to be replaced every three months. This plastic plank has inherent fire retardancy which does not react with the sea so they last much longer.
Materials manufacturers now understand both the economic benefits and marketing opportunities of developing more environmentally beneficial production processes, which has led to different kinds of collaboration.
Andrew Muirhead Leather comes from the Scottish beef industry. Upon arrival the hides have to be cleaned, the disposal of the resulting detritus can cause a huge amount of landfill. Now they burn it, the energy helps power the factory and the remaining ash goes to the local brick industry. Who would have ever thought that the beef and the construction industry would be linked in this way?
BeLeaf banana veneer is a new material made from the stems of banana trees once they have produced their crop of bananas. Normally these stems are cut to encourage new growth and left to rot on the ground producing much CO2 in the process. Now the veneer manufacturer is collaborating with a family run veneering company in the UK to develop flooring, doors, windows and general purpose veneer.
Charlotte Jenkins a recent Product Design graduate from Kingston University discovered that sheep’s wool was being burned by farmers as they can no longer earn sufficient money from selling it in the UK. Here was a cheap material with huge potential. She developed the tools to use this material in a different way, designing a special glove to felt the machine carded strips of wool into rope. She then made a giant wooden crochet hook in order to crochet a rug from the rope.
The waste bi-product of juice and fruit salad manufacture is a solid waste peel which has become a major environmental problem. This rich mixture of peel, segment membranes and seeds which ends up in landfill can be toxic to animals. Alkesh Parmar a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art in London has developed this material which can be made into flexible sheets or rigid solids. Here he has the idea to use existing moulds to produce new products.
It is interesting to see the increasingly rapid development of sophisticated material technology and its impact upon our physical world.
Keep following the sustainable development of these materials on REMATERIALISE.
About Jakki Dehn
Jakki runs the sustainable materials library ‘Rematerialise’ at Kingston University where she is also currently a reader.
> More about Jakki Dehn
About the Hello Materials exhibition
Experience fascinating examples of present and future materials and gain an insight into what they will mean to society and the individual. Visit the exhibition between the 2nd of April and the 21st of September 2012.
> Visit ddc.dk for more information about the Hello Materials exhibition