Swedish interior architect and designer Carolina Härdh worked with Gothenburg restaurant Vrå to create furniture from food waste generated in the restaurant’s kitchen. Using a combination of oyster shells, kelp, fish glue and rice starch, Härdh created stools as well as chopstick holders for the restaurant, where the menu is inspired by Japanese cuisine and Nordic.
“We sometimes seem to forget that humans are part of an ecological system that naturally enriches and influences each other. So what we choose to put out into nature ultimately affects us – through the food we eat or through the material we surround ourselves with,” Härdh said.
According to Härdh, food waste is a global problem with more than 30% of food going to landfill every year. In 2018 alone, Sweden disposed of 1.3 million tonnes of food waste. Food waste could be seen as a valuable resource if we try to manage it differently, she observed.
Using the principles of industrial symbiosis, whereby waste or by-products from one industry or industrial process become raw materials for another, Härdh worked with Vrå to research a biodegradable material that could be used for restaurant interiors. By exploring their remains, she created a durable material made from rice starch, which serves as a binder in the material; fish glue made from fish bones, which glues all the components together; kelp, a brown seaweed that, when dry, becomes hard and serves as reinforcement; and oyster shells, which contain a high level of calcium carbonate and give the material a hard, concrete-like finish.
Härdh’s first creation from this material was the Gigas, a stool that could also be used as a sideboard in the restaurant. Featuring a smooth surface on the outside, the stool has a speckled terrazzo-like finish. The leftover material was used to create Japanese chopstick holders called Hashioki. The designer explained that the chopstick holders serve as a small physical proof of what is possible when raw food waste is handled in circular processes. Kept on the tables, Hashioki offers the opportunity for the guest to approach and have a tactile connection with the material.
The oysters are locally harvested sustainably on the Swedish west coast while the materials production process is free of toxic elements. The designer keeps her production small and limits it to the actual amount of restaurant waste. It collects its own waste for reuse in production. Since not all of the material is used in production, the rest is sent to the roof garden of the building as plant nutrition. The garden supplies some of the vegetables and herbs to the restaurant. In this way, the circular loop is closed in the process of industrial symbiosis, Härdh noted.
“It is possible to design a material from food waste if we handle the resource with care,” she concluded.