Cow dung speakers and dog hair rugs: innovative recycling at Singapore Design Week

Written by the author Oscar Holland, CNNSingapore

Southeast Asia has a waste problem. The region is home to half of the 10 countries with the most plastic pollution flowing into rivers and seas, according to the World Bank. And in addition to their own production, countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam are among the leading importers of consumer waste in the developed world.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that recycling, reuse and repurposing are key themes at this year’s Singapore Design Week.

During the 10-day program, which ended on Sunday, local and international designers tackled environmental threats and the role design can play in mitigating them. Many of the most innovative examples of upcycling were on display at the event’s Find Design Fair, which highlighted the work of young creatives from across the region.

The showcase, titled Emerge, was wide-ranging, though curator Suzy Annetta identified a strong theme of “Trash to Treasure.”

“There’s really a lot of diversity in what materials designers use and where they salvage them from,” said Annetta, who is also the founding editor of Design Anthology magazine. “Some are post-consumer, some are post-industrial and some are agricultural.

“Designers, by nature, are wise, and they are problem solvers,” he said, adding: “There’s a high level of awareness of knowing what the problems are, and doing something small, in their own way, to try to address them. And I think everyone will like it. We would like (the idea) to make these scalable.”

Here are seven eye-catching products and prototypes from Singapore Design Week.

Additional cow dung

Design Fair Asia/Marc Tan

Cow dung may be a natural material, but it is responsible for polluting water and emitting gases such as methane and ammonia. In order to combat the environmental impact of agriculture in Indonesia’s West Java province, designer Adhi Nugraha developed a method to recycle waste into sustainable electrical appliances.

A team led by Nugraha, a professor and researcher at the Bandung Institute of Technology, washes the feces with water, which removes the smell. It is then combined with scrap plastic and wood glue in a mold before being dried over low heat until it hardens.

So far, the project has resulted in eye-catching lamps, stools and home speakers. The manufacturing process is simple and consumes very little energy, meaning that local citizens will soon be able to participate in the production of the items and generate income.

Washing machine tube lamps

I Am Not David Lee Studio

Singaporean artist and designer David Lee transforms washing machine pipes into eye-catching floor, table and ceiling lamps by inserting LED strips into flexible sleeves before bending them into unique shapes. As a result, the sculptural forms (also pictured above) take the form of what he calls “drawings” around the ceiling fixtures to give the appearance of floating above the room.

The series of lamps called “Ugly Ducting” are currently prototypes in development.

Plastic waste furniture

National Design Center

Realizing they were both the culprits and the victims of pollution on the Indonesian island of Bali, the owners of a popular Potato Head beach club and hotel have embarked on a six-year “zero waste” quest. Working with various artists and designers, including Dutch architecture firm OMA, the company reviewed every part of its operation and co-developed processes and products that help reduce its footprint.

The “N*thing is Possible” exhibition opened as part of Singapore Design Week marks this journey. Among the exhibits are examples of beach furniture made from materials reclaimed from the nearby coast, including deck umbrellas made from palm bark and chairs created from plastic waste. The mission is ongoing, and while the company has dramatically reduced waste production, the exhibit is also brutally honest about the work that remains.

Dog hair rugs

Singapore Design Week

On average, dog grooming services in Singapore cut more than two kilos of fur a day, according to local designer Cynthia Chan. Instead of letting it go to waste, the recent graduate used techniques including felting, tufting, knitting. and compression molding to turn excess hair into “skins” that can be used as home rugs.

Dog fur may not be a major polluter, but its natural fur products offer a sustainable and cruelty-free alternative to synthetics. Chan hopes to “further investigate the gross and expressive properties of these fibers,” he wrote of the project.

‘flexible’ sawdust

AIEVL Design Studio

Indonesian designer Denny R. Priyatna used his space at Singapore Design Week to showcase a table and chair made using traditional carving and weaving techniques. What is equally impressive, however, is what he did with the leftover sawdust.

By mixing together different types of wood and adhesives, the industrial designer found that using a small amount of glue, rather than resin, produced a more flexible, paper-like material that he called “flexible” sawdust. He then layers the sheets into different thicknesses, or combines them with scraps of leather from his workshop, to produce accessories including pens, vases and other vessels.

Coffee and waste paper table

Phuong Dao

Confined indoors during the pandemic, Vietnamese designer Phuong Dao turned to what was around him: newspaper scraps, cardboard and old coffee grounds.

Compressed and combined with an adhesive, these waste materials can be used to build sturdy furniture. Take the designer’s low table and chair set, named “Cà Ràng” after a sort of Vietnamese kitchen traditionally assembled by the family.

“It was a place to socialize, share stories and warm up by the fire,” he explained via email. “Nowadays, families often gather in the living room, so I want to bring that spirit to this space.”

Factory waste fan

Design Fair Asia/Joseph Rastullo

During the pandemic, Filipino designer Joseph Rastrullo said he was approached by friends who worked in various industrial facilities, including air-conditioning manufacturers, truck factories and electrical wiring and construction companies, asking what they could do with their waste materials. “I told them, ‘Give me the scraps you have and I’ll create something,'” he explained.

The result is a series of high-end bespoke design pieces, including an elegant drinks cabinet and a geometric electric fan made from metal wire cutouts. The latter can take up to three weeks to make by hand, though Rastrullo is now looking at ways to mass-produce the items.