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Pearson Lloyd Turns Waste Food Packaging Into Desk Accessories

12.07.21 | By
Pearson Lloyd Turns Waste Food Packaging Into Desk Accessories
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bFRIENDS by Bene is a collection of desktop accessories made from discarded food packaging. Pen pots, trays, and a smart phone stand, are all 3D printed from 100% recycled PLA, a cornstarch-derived bioplastic, that has been diverted from landfill. The collection was designed by London-based Pearson Lloyd and produced by Batch.Works. We spoke to Luke Pearson (below, left), co-founder of Pearson Lloyd, to find out more.

Tell me a little bit about your childhood, education, and background in terms of how you first became interested in creativity, design, and sustainability. 

Growing up in a fairly rural setting meant entertaining oneself was key to not being bored. Having two creative parents, a painter father and a fashion designer mother, meant there was an abundance of tools and materials around me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a rambling, mostly undecorated, house which meant making a mess was okay. As a result, I created my reality and entertainment through the things that I made. A fairly frugal view of the world meant repairs were always attempted and my mother grew all our vegetables, so I’ve always shied away from consumption unless I really need something. The idea of waste has always troubled me and a ‘repair and make things last’ mentality found its way into my design thinking. Having toyed with the idea of being a physicist and engineer, the penny slowly dropped that design was what really excited me so a tiny prompt from my dad pushed me off to art college. At Central St Martins, my degree thesis was about conspicuous consumption and if we would, without legislation, be able to curb this desire. At Pearson Lloyd, we have always tried to be careful with what and how we design, but as time goes on the rules change and the boundaries tighten.

How would you describe your project/product? 

This is a very collaborative project that we instigated having met a young start-up opposite our new studio in London. bFRIENDS is a playful collection of user-friendly desk accessories for the office and the home produced by our long-term friends Bene and manufactured by start-up Batch.works. The collection ranges from very specific small items and ambiguous products with mixed functions to shared accessory trays for group work. All of it is 3D printed from recycled food packaging.

What inspired this project/product? 

For a long time, we have wanted to design a line of accessories, but the costs of tooling are prohibitive for what might be relatively small production runs. Additionally, the amount of tooling required means that, unless you make a lot of one single product, it’s highly wasteful in terms of the energy and raw materials used to make the tooling alone. Meeting Batch.Works during the lockdown last spring, who specialize in producing items in recycled PLA, was a catalyst. In these uncertain times, we wanted to make something with very little impact but also something that could be modified, updated, or even canceled with very little impact. Something smart and agile. Something fun. 3D printing offered the perfect process.

What waste (and other) materials are you using, how did you select those particular materials and how do you source them? 

We are using PLA, which is the thermoplastic polyester most commonly used in 3D printing. Batch.Works were already working with a bioplastic PLA recycled from food packaging, so the bFRIENDS product has already had a first life. This lowers the carbon impact massively from virgin plastics made from the petrochemical industry. The fact the desk accessories don’t require very high structural performance parameters meant PLA was very suitable.

When did you first become interested in using waste as raw material and what motivated this decision? 

Recently, we are trying to persuade manufacturers to take bigger and bigger steps, but we have always discussed what proportion of recycled material can be put into our products and tried to ensure non-recyclable materials are kept to a minimum.

What processes do the materials have to undergo to become the finished product? 

There is a roll of PLA filament a few millimeters in diameter, which is heated and squeezed through the nozzle of a 3D printer which effectively draws the shape in 3D. There is no handwork required.

What happens to your products at the end of their life – can they go back into the circular economy? 

Yes, the products can be chipped and made into new filament to make a new product. We are implementing a collection facility with Bene so that people can simply return unwanted items to a Bene showroom and they can be taken back for reprocessing.

How did you feel the first time you saw the transformation from waste material to product/prototype? 

It’s thrilling to make a new product out of an old one that has a totally different function but discloses no evidence of that previous life.

How have people reacted to this project? 

So far, people like not only the story and intent but also the playful shapes and colors we have used.

How do you feel opinions towards waste as a raw material are changing?

Very quickly but not quickly enough. I think it’s still a first-world privilege in some ways to worry about waste, but sadly it generally affects developing nations’ economies and people first. The problem is visibility. So often what’s not seen is impossible to comprehend and what the world generates in terms of waste is terrifying.

What do you think the future holds for waste as a raw material? 

A few years ago I took a group of RCA students to Brazil. It was hard to find waste in the city. Everything was scavenged at the end of the day and turned into something new or useful. Necessity and poverty drove this, rather than sustainability, but it made me consider waste as a valuable material in a new way. We have to shift our values, but as materials inevitably become more expensive, people will be forced to use them more carefully or use them again. I hope this is not too late. We need to change the culture now.

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Katie Treggiden is a purpose-driven writer and keynote speaker championing a circular approach to design – because Planet Earth needs better stories. With 20 years' experience in the creative industries, she regularly contributes to publications such as The Guardian, Crafts Magazine and Monocle24 – as well as being Editor at Large for Design Milk. She is currently exploring the question ‘can craft save the world?’ through an emerging body of work that includes her fifth book, Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure (Ludion, 2020), and a podcast, Circular with Katie Treggiden.