These Modern Housewares Are Made From Trash

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Circularity-obsessed design startup Pentatonic transforms trash into modern home furnishings including Airtool tables and chairs. (Photo: Pentatonic)

Whenever the season, it’s never a bad idea to keep your eyes peeled for the perfect gift for that special someone who truly has everything.

Everything except for a jacquard throw pillow crafted from recycled plastic soda bottles by an Italian "couture textiler" or a piece of minimalist jewelry — a ring, to be exact — that was once a stinking heap of 400 cigarette butts.

Making new products from pre- and post-consumer waste in lieu of virgin materials is nothing new. New Jersey-based Terracycle, for example, has been at it for years now, breathing new life into some of the most prevalent — and sometimes improbable — types of trash via large-scale recycling campaigns. Even that snazzy new side chair you picked up at IKEA might be made from manufacturing waste that would have otherwise been sent to landfills.

Based in Berlin and London, high-end furniture and accessories startup Pentatonic has gone and upped the ante with a range of rubbish-borne home goods that go beyond being useful and unique. The company wants consumers to better understand the positive environmental impact of each individual product and its components. It quantifies things. Made from recycled materials — a nebulous declaration becomes clear as day with Pentatonic.

Handy Glass by Pentatonic
A conversation-starting cup: The Handy glassware line is made from recycled smartphone screens. (Photo: Pentatonic)

Bottles and screens and cans, rebirthed

Guided by a closed-loop manufacturing process, Pentatonic includes a clever "Product Impact Dashboard" with all of the design-forward, apartment-ready wares available on the company's webstore. Everything is European-made from 100 percent post-consumer waste. Ninety percent of that waste is sourced locally in Europe.

Take, for example, Pentatonic’s striking-looking glass Handy Bowl that's made entirely from discarded smartphones screens. (There’s also matching drinking glasses in two different sizes.) By using the dashboard, online shoppers learn that the bowl saved 1,220 grams (2.7 pounds) of waste and incorporates 360 individual screens.

Jacquard Bottle Pillow by Pentatonic
Jacquard Bottle Pillow by Pentatonic. (Photo: Pentatonic)

Then there’s the aforementioned throw pillow. Made in the same northern Italian town where Diesel jeans are produced, Pentatonic’s eye-popping decorative cushions are made from a soft, recycled plastic bottle-based fabric. Each medium-sized pillow is made from equivalent of 30 plastic bottles and saves 375 grams (roughly 13 ounces) of waste. Other Pentatonic goods made from recycled plastic bottles include placemats and wallets.

Pentatonic’s signature offering is the modular, fully customizable line of Airtool chairs and tables. To be clear, these are big-ticket items with prices starting at $229 for the chairs and northwards of $1,000 for the tables. They also make a big impact: the standard Airtool Chair with a Plyfix seat shell (a comfy felt-like material made from recycled plastic) saves the equivalent of 61.1 plastic bottles, 0.1 shoe sole, 81.4 throwaway plastic food containers, and 22.7 aluminum cans — that’s over 4,115.8 grams (about 9 pounds) of rubbish.

From cradle to grave and beyond

Founded by Nike expat and fashion marketing wiz Jamie Hall alongside sustainable business guru Johann Bödecker, Pentatonic also touts traceability. Each individual product and component comes with a unique identification number that enables the company to tracks its "journey through the entirety of its lifecycle." As Pentatonic explains: "It lets us know when and where it was made, what trash was used to make it and what batch it was a part of. A digital logbook embedded behind a code."

In the future, Pentatonic plants to launch a database on its website that will enable Airtool owners to look up any component of their table or chair and discover its "full provenance."

Pentatonic Smoke Ring product shot
Pentatonic Smoke Ring product shot. (Photo: Pentatonic)

What’s more, Pentatonic offers a buy-back guarantee, offering up to 15 percent of the original selling price for products or components that are no longer needed or wanted. No proof of purchase is needed, and Pentatonic pledges to transform these materials, no matter how busted, into new things. "This is our circularity," explains the company.

As part of the Product Impact Dashboard, an item's permanent buy-back value is also listed. A returned Bottle Cushion, for example, fetches $9 bucks while the components that make up the Airtool Chair can be returned for recycling for $35. And in case that exquisitely marbled $75 ring made from cigarette butts is rejected after the normal, 30-day return period, Pentatonic will still buy it back for $6.50. As Pentatonic makes clear, you are both the consumer and the supplier in this tidy, closed-loop arrangement.

Fractured table and bench by Snarkitecture x Pentatonic
Fractured pairs Pentatonic with New York design studio Snarkitecture. (Photo: Pentatonic)

Sustainability with added 'snark'

Following a healthy round of initial fundraising, Hall and Bödecker officially launched Pentatonic (the word refers to the five-note musical scale ... pente comes for the Greek for "five" and tonic or "tone") at the 2017 edition of the London Design Festival. And only a few months later, the company has, most impressively, unveiled its first marquee design collaboration.

As reported by CoDesign, the just-released capsule collection was designed by Snarkitecture, a playful collaborative design studio best known for immersive pop-up shops and for transforming the Great Hall of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., into a "beach" like no other during the summer of 2015. (New York-based Snarkitecture will return to the National Building Museum this summer for another interactive installation, this one dubbed "Fun House.")

Called Fractured, the collaboration consists of tables and benches that, as the collection’s name would imply, appear to have been ripped apart at the middle in order to "absorb and jar simultaneously." That said, active and budget-conscious families looking for new furnishings for the den will probably have better luck at Rooms To Go. But for those on the hunt for a functional statement piece made from trash and boasting multiple lives, Fractured is a worthy investment.

"It’s a company that’s thinking very progressively about the future of material," Snarkitecture co-founder Daniel Arsham tells CoDesign of Pentatonic. "The approach, for us, was to bring our design language into that range of materials."

Like all Pentatonic offerings, each piece of the Fractured collection features a Product Impact Dashboard. The $2,800 Fractured Bench, for example, boasts trash savings of 45 aluminum cans, 240 plastic bottles, 120 throwaway food containers and 0.1 shoe sole. In total, over 12,000 grams (26 pounds) of trash was diverted from landfills in its creation.

Says Arsham: "Taking the existing and transforming it into something unusual and extraordinary, and multiplying it thousands, even millions of times. This is what Pentatonic does as a core principle. That’s kinda the future."