Five sustainable product ideas to blow your mind, not your carbon budget

Whether or not it’s what we eat or what we put on, design is the essential first step in the direction of extra sustainable dwelling. However how will we get there? From drinkable seawater to a bag that turns right into a lamp, listed here are 5 ingenious concepts

In terms of tackling the local weather disaster, some options are fairly well-known. Everyone knows we have to reduce down on flights, proceed to help renewable vitality, and quell our dependancy to quick vogue

However so as to really flip issues round, completely every part wants to alter. From the way in which we design the buildings we stay in to the bag on our backs as we head to work, sensible options – little and enormous – are wanted in each side of life. 

That’s the place round design is available in. A manner of creating merchandise that bakes in sustainability, it avoids utilizing virgin uncooked supplies and focuses on what occurs on the finish of the product’s lifespan, aiming to go away as mild a footprint as doable.

The excellent news? Round designers are already on the market reimagining the on a regular basis, with the assistance of worldwide organisation, What Design Can Do. It advocates for design as a software for social change and has been operating challenges since 2011, partaking designers on every part from the local weather disaster to refugees. 

For its inaugural Make It Circular challenge, the fourth local weather motion problem in partnership with the Ikea Basis, 50 nominees have been chosen, with 13 winners to be introduced on 3 Could. Listed below are 5 inspiring nominees.

All the things, from garments to curtains to floorboards, begins with design. Picture: Cam Morin.


In 2012, the zip on Alei Verspoor’s backpack broke. “I threw away the bag,” she tells me. “I simply purchased a brand new one. And I assumed, okay, that’s actually not good, as a result of this entire bag, all of the supplies are completely positive. I’m simply throwing it away as a result of I don’t actually know the best way to repair it.”

The end result was Packbags (main image above), a very modular system. If one half breaks, it may well simply get replaced and recycled. The group additionally gives a free lifelong restore service at its Amsterdam HQ. And for those who now not need your bag? Packbags is engaged on plans to supply “after life” transformations, which might see your bag flip into different merchandise reminiscent of lamps.

Verspoor says she likes to think about the luggage as a “system” much like Vitsœ, which produces Dieter Rams’ universal shelving system. The modular cabinets, which could be reimagined in an infinite variety of mixtures with none instruments, have been a design favorite since they were launched in 1960. “I discover {that a} very sustainable mind-set,” says Verspoor.

Meet all 50 nominees of the Make it Round problem
From what we eat to how we construct, package deal and purchase, these thrilling improvements stop waste by rethinking our lifestyle

Packbags’ product has one other profit too — enjoyable. “It additionally has this form of playful factor,” she provides, “with the ability to exchange colors or having a number of color choices. So, when folks don’t actually decide up on the sustainable half instantly, they nonetheless assume it’s enjoyable.”

Rethread Africa

Think about you’re completed with a T-shirt. Maybe you ripped it, or it doesn’t fit your needs anymore. To recycle it, all you want to do is chuck it into your compost heap. 

“You may take your piece of material, throw it again in your kitchen backyard and it’ll regenerate that soil, the place you develop tomatoes, onions, and carrots.” That’s the imaginative and prescient of Charles Oyamo, the co-founder of Rethread Africa, primarily based in Kenya. However that’s not all his materials might change.

Constituted of agricultural waste reminiscent of pineapple leaves, he says Rethread Africa’s materials use 99 per cent much less water than cotton and cut back CO2 emissions by 80 per cent. They’re additionally made utilizing a chemical-free course of.

“Pineapple leaves comprise a excessive focus of cellulose, a pure polymer that offers crops their construction and energy,” explains Oyamo. “The cellulose fibres in pineapple leaves are lengthy and skinny, making them ideally suited for spinning into yarn and weaving into materials. The fibres are versatile and extremely elastic, permitting for comfy and sturdy clothes. Moreover, the fibres have a comfortable texture that feels good in opposition to the pores and skin,” he says. 

The lengthy, skinny fibres in pineapple leaves make them ideally suited for spinning into yarn. Picture: Rethread Africa

Rethread Africa processes its fibres on the farms the place it sources its agricultural waste, additional slicing down on the carbon value of transportation, and ensures farmers receives a commission a good worth.

Curiously, Oyamo hopes his firm gained’t be remembered. “No one remembers the businesses that have been competing for growing plastic. We have to get to that house, the place 100 years from now nobody will keep in mind Rethread Africa, however folks will keep in mind what we did to alter the course of how we stay.”


Shubham Singh has a imaginative and prescient for the way forward for papermaking: one the place no timber are reduce down. As an alternative, crop residues are used — the straw and crown of crops left on fields after harvest.

It would sound far-fetched, however it’s already a actuality at his company, Craste, primarily based in Pune, India. The startup makes sustainable packaging from waste that may in any other case be burned.

“Let the timber be there for shade and for sequestering carbon,” he says. “We will have crops arising each three or 4 months — in comparison with timber that may take no less than 5 years to develop to their potential for papermaking.” It’s time, he says, for a “systematic transformation”.

Craste’s tree-free pulp is used to make every part from meals containers to cardboard containers. Picture: Craste

The corporate’s mannequin incentivises farmers to reap and promote their crop waste to Craste, which it then converts into tree-free pulp. This pulp, in flip, is used to make every part from meals containers to cardboard containers. Singh desires that at some point all of the merchandise we see in our supermarkets can be made with tree-free packaging.

“We’ve carried out sufficient polluting of the world [as a society],” he concludes. “Now it’s time that we do some optimistic engineering.”

City Paper Recycling

Davide Onestini’s mission started after a seek for containers. “I used to be in search of containers, regular containers,” he tells me, “to fill stuff at residence.”

“I couldn’t discover any containers made in Portugal, which for me is astonishing. It’s not such a technological product that it’s so arduous to make.” On the similar time, our cities are full of paper waste, particularly as extra producers are utilizing it after they swap away from plastic packaging.

In the meantime, recycling is sophisticated, with many western nations shipping it abroad. When you’ve popped it within the wheelie bin it doesn’t disappear. It might find yourself midway throughout the globe.

And so, Urban Paper Recycling was born, a challenge that wishes to empower communities to recycle their very own waste into supplies much like wooden, MDF [medium density fibreboard], and chipboard. The imaginative and prescient is for neighbourhoods to have the ability to run their very own small factories and the startup gives ‘open-source recipes, instruments and pointers’ that allow folks to do exactly that. 

Davide Onestini imagines a world the place communities can take paper recycling into their very own palms. Picture City Paper Recycling

Whereas the challenge remains to be at idea stage, Onestini hopes that ultimately “[It will] allow neighbourhoods to be autonomous. Folks can deliver their paper waste and see it remodeled into one thing that they want.”

“Crucial factor is that it’s altering mindsets and we hope that tasks like ours make folks ask completely different questions, new sorts of questions that open minds a bit extra.”

Libre Water

“Why ought to we work by ourselves within the basement?” asks Simon Meyer, one of many group behind Libre Water. “Let’s do it in a collaborative manner as a result of this can be a collective downside that all of us have to work on.”

The issue he’s speaking about is entry to consuming water, one thing which impacts one in three people on the planet. Its answer? An open-source filtration system for seawater, which could be made cheaply and simply anyplace across the globe.

“Mainly, what we’re doing is taking a expertise that’s confirmed and has been well-researched for 60 years now,” explains Meyer. “However primarily, the challenges are distribution, upkeep, and enterprise fashions.”

Libre Water’s filtration system turns seawater into consuming water. Picture: Libre Water

To fight this, Libre Water, which is predicated throughout Germany and Greece, desires to offer communities every part they should clear up the issue themselves, with design directions that may be simply replicated throughout the globe. 

The group say an open-source strategy to its work is vital, permitting them to collaborate “past boundaries”. The challenge is at the moment at prototype stage, and the group will quickly take it out to communities for suggestions and additional tweaking.

Major picture: Packbags