Humans produce an almost staggering amount of waste each year. People purchased 480 billion plastic bottles in 2016 and are on track to increase that figure by more than 100 billion by 2021.
More than 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been manufactured since the early 1950s. While some fraction of it is recycled annually, the vast majority of it ends up in landfills or in the ocean. Americans discard approximately 150 million mobile phones per year in the U.S., and every group of 1 million phones contains about 35,000 pounds of copper and 772 pounds of silver. Americans are trashing 52.5 million pounds of copper and nearly 116,000 pounds of silver each year.
Worldwide, annual electronics waste (e-waste) is dropped into landfills at a rate of 20 million to 50 million metric tons.
Entrepreneurs, green lifestyle advocates and self-proclaimed “up-cyclers” Jamie Hall, Levi’s U.K. former head of marketing, and German-born marketer Johann Boedecker have a unique outlook on how this problem might be solved. When life hands you 50 million metric tons of electronics waste per year — plus 15.1 million tons of textile waste and 60 million tons of food waste — make furniture.
Not just furniture that exists for the sake of giving recycled trash a place to go, the firm’s founders noted. After all, people actually have to use this stuff in their homes and offices day in and day out. The designs are built almost entirely from repurposed material, and trash is among the more abundant resources on earth. But, just because something is made from discarded materials is no excuse for it look like garbage. Pentatonic is committed to green products “without compromising an inch on design, performance or function.”
“People are more aware and informed than ever regarding the health of our planet, and the role we can all play to find a solution,” Hall noted in an interview. “There’s definitely a growing realization that great products do not need to come at the cost of sustainability.”
So, how does one literally turn trash into treasure?
Depending on the item and the intended finished look, the first step in the design process is trash picking, according to Pentatonic. That highly glamorous job provides the all-important feedstock from which the products are made. Recycling the items involves a cleaning and sorting process, too. Plastics are washed and sorted before being shredded into pellets, then are subjected to an adapted injection-molding process to reform them into the desired piece, such as furniture.
“With our unique technology, developed over 15 years of research and application in industrial spaces, we’ve learned how to most effectively transform trash into desirable new products and materials,” Pentatonic notes on its website. “Glass, plastic, metals, food, even cigarettes: It can all be reused many times, without compromising on quality or performance.”
The furniture is also designed to be buildable without the needs for additional tools or glues, another attempt to minimize waste and the use of harmful chemicals.
And, when customers are done with a product, Pentatonic requests they return items for a discount on their next pieces of furniture, giving the recycled materials the opportunity to continue to be reused throughout time. The firm refers to it as an attempt to build a “circular economy,” and bringing their customers into the supply chains as partners.
“We’re trying to radically transform consumption culture with Pentatonic,” said Hall. “Our circular model, whereby we buy back our products from our consumers to recycle them into new products — that’s new in a design space.”
According to Telegraph reports, the up and coming furniture firm has snapped up £4.3 million ($5.6 million) in advance of its forthcoming launch, receiving funding from Miniwiz, a Taiwan and Berlin-based studio especially interested in recycling and green initiatives; Steven Chang, corporate vice president of Chinese investment company Tencent; and Hartmut Gassner, a German environmental lawyer.
The world will get a peek at Pentatonic’s first collection at the London Design Festival held later this month.