«When you want to discard the lamp, you can separate the components by yourself so they are removable». In conversation with Marilù Osculati on just how much further we need to go
Circular economy and the design industry
The concept of a circular economy is one which many developers are working on. Day-to-day products are being upgraded to fit into this spectrum. The more items we can replace with a more sustainable option at one time, the faster we can get to our desired goals in tackling climate change. But what about items which aren’t necessarily used in our daily lives? Design and furniture pieces continue to get developed to showcase the extent which we are able to go to when it comes to building a circular future. It is no longer just about doing what is right in terms of what is necessary, but it is also about implementing these changes into our homes. It is about changing our lifestyle and habits.
Krill Design is an Italian-based brand dedicated to turning resources from nature into eco-design products. They do this by embracing the concept of a circular economy. One of the products which encompasses this is named Ohmie, a lamp made out of orange scraps. As a start-up, Krill Design started out as a B2B model, working with other businesses to extend the definition of circularity within the world of design. They subsequently wanted to sell their own products and «we thought the lamp was a great way to start», said Marilù Osculati, Marketing and Communication manager at the company.
Ohmie: a lamp made from oranges
Through research and development, Krill Design created a new type of material which could be used to make an efficient, robust and compostable lamp. Gather the scraps from oranges — seeds, pulp and peel — they then dry them out. This is then turned into a powder which is mixed with a biopolymer made from bacterial fermentation. The compound turns into pellets which they then make a filament out of. This filament is what is fed in the 3D printer to make the body of the lamp. The final product is the world’s first completely circular lamp made from one-hundred percent food waste.
Although the body of the lamp is completely compostable with no plastic included, the same cannot be said for the electrical wires that need to be included. «As long as we are a start-up, we are concentrating on building the material for the body», admits Osculati. «When you want to discard the lamp, you can separate the components by yourself so they are removable». However, there are possible ways to make this, too, biodegradable together with the body of the lamp. There are developments in electric wiring using biodegradable polymers. Additionally, one solution could be to use biodegradable or compostable solar panels. Although these may not perform as well as normal electrical wiring in terms of light intensity, it demonstrates how there will always be opportunities for numerous industries to become green.
The dilemma of food waste
«Food waste is an issue and no one talks about it», explains Osculati. «Just because its compostable doesn’t mean that it is much better than other waste». According to FoodPrint, a non-profit organization dedicated to research and education on food production practices, almost half of the food is wasted in the United States. Building the circular model to comprise food waste would help overcome the issue of climate change in a more rapid and efficient way. However, there needs to be more development and awareness spread surrounding what this would actually mean. Explaining to someone that they can buy design objects or furniture made from food waste may raise some questions about how reliable it is. In the case of Ohmie, «the compound gives the lamp a plastic-like characteristic in terms of resistance», which means that there is no risk of it decomposing on your nightstand. There are many other various objects which could be created with the same principle, such as stools.
Applying the design in production
Since a big variable in the compound is the food, there are minor changes which need to be applied to the 3D printer settings before inserting the filament. «When you develop a new material, you never know what problems there may be so you can’t start thinking about the bigger future right away», says Osculati. One of the limits is the technical response of the material. «When we started, they had some problems at first with the high temperatures because the material is organic».
The point which Osculati makes shines a light on possible future developments which could increase the number of possibilities regarding food waste and circularity. Having machinery and technology purposefully made to turn food waste into something else can make the process more efficient, quicker and therefore more diffused throughout society. «Developing a new material costs a lot. One thing we want to do in the future is have our factories spread out so that you don’t have to buy the lamp but you can buy the project to build it on your own with a 3D printer. Otherwise, you can print it in a closer hub so there are no shipping costs and the products cost less», explains Osculati.
Big vs. small businesses tackling sustainable products
The solution seems so simple yet it seems like these projects remain in the lowest percentile of producers. Independent projects, start-ups and small businesses are embracing this new look on circularity but larger companies are barely making a dent in the sustainability spectrum. The dilemma encompasses the idea that the path from the lab to the market is not as straightforward as people may think. Furthermore, as Osculati explains, the question is about how efficient it is for a company to adapt to these changes: «It is easier to start a brand new product for a start up than a big company to switch all the production to something sustainable. This is why big companies are investing a lot of money to develop their own sustainable products within a capsule. But they remain within a capsule because they can’t switch so much in such a short time. It is easier for a start-up to begin with a different approach and developing a new material». This goes hand in hand with how businesses should approach customers. Storytelling is key to avoiding misconception surrounding food waste. Although the idea of having a lamp made from oranges was enough to convince customers to know more about Krill Design, other types of food waste may be perceived differently. «Food waste is actually a resource and we can create a valuable product», which is why more awareness needs to be spread surrounding the potential for this to enter a world of circularity.
Where we are with regards to sustainability
«Being sustainable is not as shipped as not being sustainable», describes Osculati. «People still choose single-use plastic because of affordability. Being sustainable, costs are higher and people are still not used to this way of thinking. People prefer having more objects which have a shorter lifespan rather than just one object». Even though people are getting used to the idea of consuming more sustainably, the cycle goes back to what these companies actually have to offer them. As previously mentioned, the demand for real sustainable and circular items aren’t readily available to everyone seeking that kind of lifestyle. «For one lamp which is sustainable, there are one hundred which are not sustainable», Osculati says to describe the situation we are currently in. «The customer cannot really choose nowadays. There are few products that are really sustainable».
The dilemma of the cycle
These dilemmas create a cycle which prohibit us from developing a circular economy within the realm of food waste at an efficient pace. In one year, from 2020 to 2021, the topic of sustainability increased by 400%. This may be due to a number of factors but actually doing something which could physically help in the matter is a different story. The idea of a design element, such as a lamp, being produced from a circular process showcases just how much potential there is to shift the entire mindset of society. That is, of course, if we are willing to do so.
A startup based in Milan, embracing the concept of circularity to create objects from food waste. They developed a new material to create a lamp made from orange scraps, the world’s first completely circular lamp.