Feb 17 2021

Recycling goes premium: Reused material

Furniture manufacturers in the premium segment bring new product highlights to the market every year that often amaze the design scene. Brands like Kartell, Vitra or OUT Objects of our days, however, are now going one step further in terms of environmentally conscious furniture production: they design furniture made of recycled plastic.

Sustainable per se? 

When is a piece of furniture sustainable? Is it enough if the material leaves a small ecological footprint, is it more? Up to now, the furniture industry has mainly argued with the keyword longevity. A well-designed, excellently crafted piece of furniture is sustainable per se because it is used by the customer for a long time and can be passed on over generations. By using it for several years, the resources used to manufacture the product would be amortised over time.  

That is true. But what happens to the product at the end of its life cycle? Can it be returned to the production cycle without any ifs and buts, or will the chair, for example, be thrown away after all? For many pieces of furniture, the latter is probably the case. Furniture brands like Kartell, Vitra or OUT Objects of our days are not satisfied with the fact that furniture simply ends up in the trash compactor. The premium brands - each for itself - take a different approach. 

Tiptopp - the Tip Ton by Vitra 

The exploration of alternative materials, both for new products and to improve, complement or replace existing products, is central to the work of Vitra's research and development department. The Vitra team has succeeded in producing the first product made from processed household waste according to the principle of the circular economy: the Tip Ton chair, which Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby developed with Vitra in 2011 . Made from recycled material, it is called Tip Ton RE.

For this reason, the chair Tip Ton RE is also represented in the IMM TREND-BRIEFING in the current trend "Natural Luxury

To achieve the necessary stability and quality, the recycled material is supplemented with the smallest possible amount of glass fiber. No dyes are added: The gray of Tip Ton RE is the natural color of the recycled material processed. 

The plastic comes from municipal waste disposal in Germany, where recyclable materials are collected in the "Gelber Sack" programme. After separation from metals and other composite materials, the plastic is shredded, cleaned and converted into a high-quality reusable granulate. With this alternative to petroleum-based primary plastics, a significant reduction in energy consumption is achieved. 

The chair has tiny specks that make the surface more vibrant and give it depth. Tip Ton RE itself is 100 percent recyclable at the end of its product life. "We wanted to keep the material as pure as possible. You get what you see," explains Christian Grosen Rasmussen, Chief Design Officer at Vitra. "There are tiny speckles of other colours in the grey, which vary from chair to chair. 

That seems interesting to me, it shifts our perception of what plastic is. The slight irregularity of the recycled material gives it depth and gives it a story - just like the structure of a piece of wood tells you how the tree grew." 

The name Tip Ton not only refers to the characteristic double sitting posture the chair offers, but also alludes to the school in Tipton, England, for which it was originally designed. © Vitra

Organic - not just a phrase for Kartell.  

Bio is one of the new frontiers that Kartell's research department is working on and which has led to the realisation of the first product made of completely natural materials. It is a material made from agricultural production waste that does not fall within the scope of food for humans and animals. 

In a biological process, a biomass similar to plastic is created from this waste "attacked" by microorganisms. After a series of phases to refine its composition, this biomass becomes an extremely high-quality material, which Kartell is now the first company in the furnishing sector to use in the same way as other plastics in injection moulding and moulding processes. 

The material used for the organic collection is certified by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and has exclusive properties of biodegradability in water and soil, certified by international institutes such as Vinçotte Belgium and TÜV Austria. The first organic object in the Kartell catalogue is a modular container first designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri in 1967. 

Ecological and social - the X-Chair by OUT Objekte unserer Tage 

"Our objects do uncompromising justice to the social and ecological responsibility of our time," says Reinhard Weßling, Creative Director and Managing Partner at OUT Objekte unserer Tage. "Every product is manufactured completely and sustainably in Germany, from the first design to the final touch. 

In doing so, we observe the highest environmental standards, rely exclusively on sustainable forestry and economic use of resources in order to act in a climate-friendly way. Together with family-run master craftsmen and artisan businesses, we thus achieve outstanding quality standards." And this is especially true for the X-Chair chair, which will be launched in autumn 2020. 

The chair, designed by Hermann August Weizenegger, is made of 100% recycled polypropylene and thus sets new standards. With other supposedly recycled products, the proportions are often only 1-30%. Considering the ecological situation, this is too little for the company.  

The sustainability concept for the X-Chair goes further: the company obtains the raw material from a manufacturer of agricultural products and toys in the Berlin area. "What is left over from the production process there is 'swept up' and further processed by us," Weßling explains. End consumers can return the chair to OUT Objects of Our Days even years later. It is then processed into granulate and goes back into the production cycle.  

Arrived in the here and now, the X-Chair sets new standards in sustainability; made entirely of recycled material, fairly produced and completely traceable to the production cycle. © OUT Objects of our days

Rethinking starts in the mind 

Using recycled plastic for more sustainable furniture production even in the high-price segment is an important step. Especially if the product itself can be completely recycled at the end of its life cycle. This way, the material remains in the production cycle, which is an important and essential change that questions the whole way of thinking about production.  

Author: Bernadette Trepte

Company

Vitra GmbH

Manufacturer
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