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29 December 2020

Broodje poep © Iris Rijskamp
Blood, offal, bones, faeces, cigarette butts. Many people react with disgust. Yet they are valuable materials if we consider what designers can do with them. They know better than anyone how to upgrade the materials that we dismiss as dirty, smelly, slimy and repulsive into new valuable objects.

Designers show us the beauty of undervalued materials that have been labelled as waste materials. At the same time, they also touch on a sensitive topical subject: our relationship with nature and the interaction with animals. They expose the contradictions in our thinking about food and food production, confront us with our behaviour, want to create awareness or make our relationship with animals and nature more visible and closer as well as the relationship between the steak on our plate and a living animal.

The carnivore versus the vegetarian, waste versus circularity, organic versus bio-industry. We usually don't get any pleasant or aesthetic associations with blood, bones and slaughterhouses; the sick smell of blood makes us nauseous. Each year millions of litres of animal blood are wasted in the meat industry. Several designers have already demonstrated that you can make aesthetic products with this material, such as Shahar Livne who made a bio-leather that is used for trendy, exclusive sneakers and as a dye from blood from the slaughterhouse. Because she uses as much as possible from one animal as was done much more often in the past: from nose to tail.

Basse Stittgen created tableware that looks like bakelite from cow's blood from the slaughterhouses for his ongoing research project Blood Related, winning the New Material Award (Fellow) in 2018. And we probably also remember 'Food truck Broodje Poep', the graduation project of social designer Fides Lapidaire last year at Design Academy Eindhoven in which people's poop and pee are processed into compost for the land on which the ingredients grow for the sandwich that you could then buy at her food truck.

Porcelain and bones

During the last Dutch Design Week (DDW), material researcher and experimental designer Nienke Hoogvliet showed with her ongoing research project 'Bare Bones' the connection between animal bones and the high-quality bone china. A porcelain expert told her that the bone quality of the animals kept in the industry today is too poor to make good quality porcelain because of these animals' poor living conditions.

That is why Hoogvliet decided to compare the qualities of bone from organic cows, chickens and pigs with those of the same animals in the bio-industry. Together with scientists from Wageningen University, she hopes to answer the question: does the quality of organic animal bone ensure a better-quality bone china and what does this say about the animal's quality of life? For example, can we analyse whether the animal has been allowed to walk around outside enough or has enough living space? Can we see if it was given too many antibiotics? And what effect does that have on humans who eat meat?

Bare Bones by Nienke Hoogvliet

Chicken feathers as a delicacy

Many designers are concerned about waste, be it blood or eggs. Basse Stittgen, for example, thinks about the absurd amounts of eggs that, on average, 6.4 billion chickens lay annually: 1.1 trillion. A significant amount of which is wasted. He made egg cups from the egg shells broken during transport. The Thai designer Sorawut Kittibanthon choose to use the chicken feathers from the poultry industry as his starting point. In the project A lighter Delicacy that he presented during DDW (as part of United Matters, a master's course from Central Saint Martins in London), he proposes an alternative way to convert the 2.3 million tonnes of feather waste from slaughterhouses within the EU into a new edible product. His statement: "If we breed and slaughter millions of chickens every day, we can at least take responsibility for using every part of the animal in a safe and sustainable way." In the study, he discovered that chicken feathers consist of more than 90% protein (keratin). Those proteins are healthy, nutritious and suitable for consumption. With this, he developed an edible product that contains few calories and many essential amino acids. A kind of healthy meat substitute delicacy.

Speaking of food. If you were to leave it up to Jonas Starcke, you could also find a link with the fashion industry. His knitted clothes with prints of not too attractive dishes say something about fast food and fast fashion. The parallels between the two: clothing and food are more cheaply produced on an industrial scale, with bad quality and the lifespan is short. His bachelor project aimed to analyze the significance of clothing in our society and come up with an idea to appreciate clothing better. He knitted woolen sweaters, printed with a motif from a dish he picked apart. The wool is used to make a 3D knitted sweater, with the ingredients of the dish reduced to attractive stripes and colours.

Pollutive Ends

During DDW there were a remarkable number of projects about the not only lung-damaging but also environmentally destructive cigarette butts. Pollutive Ends by Thijs Biersteker, nominated for a Dutch Design Award, is another interactive art installation in which he makes the impact of one cigarette butt visible in an equally attractive and shocking way. He pumps fifty litres of water around the installation which is the amount that becomes polluted when that one cigarette butt is thrown away. When a cigarette butt ends up in the water, it also kills another 50 per cent of all small organisms in the ocean. That is 3.4ml of "dead water" per second.

Just as Thijs Biersteker, an environmental artist, wants to raise awareness of the world's most important issues, Carolina Giorgiani is a materials activist with the same desire: to make people aware of the pollution caused by cigarette butts on beaches, in seas and oceans. In Butts Ocean, her graduation project at Politecnico University Milan, she explores the possibilities of cellulose acetate in cigarette filters. She uses the new material that she's developed from it to manufacture appealing products.

Lucas Zito also works with cellulose acetate, the cellulose-based plastic that is processed in a cigarette filter and is one of the most polluting, toxic and difficult to degrade materials. His Cancer Objects (part of the Materialized exhibition) are made from cleaned, recycled cigarette filters. "This is how I extend the life of the material by making lamps and vases, and I hope that the industry will also see the potential and possibilities of recycling the material." Finally, in his project entitled Jugaad, Indian designer Sachi Tungare has combined two abundant and discarded materials: the (organic) flowers used for Indian rituals and festivals and cigarette butts (non-organic) to create new, attractive and colourful experimental products.

All designers clearly show that filthy waste materials have much more value and beauty than we usually assume. Although their studies are sometimes experimental in nature, they are necessary to make us more aware of the challenges we face in a world in which we pollute and exhaust the earth's resources.