Glassware from cell phones. Chairs from plastic bottles. Berlin-based start-up Pentatonic turns other people’s waste into classy objects, championing great design and a new, sustainable circular economy.
From old to new. Or: from problems to possibilities. That’s the spirit – according to start-up Pentatonic. Since late 2017, the Berlin-based design team has been working on a small revolution: holistic and beautiful objects created from waste, designed for easy disassembly. Once the piece has outlived its use, its individual parts can form the basis of brand new products. It’s a novel approach that makes Pentatonic relatively unique in the marketplace.
Considering the reusability of individual product components beyond the object’s lifetime is still far from industry standard. Once a chair’s upholstery is worn out, it tends to get chucked out – together with valuable, eminently (re)usable materials like screws and other parts. In contrast, and to ensure maximum reusability, Pentatonic’s entire collection – chairs, tables, and glassware – is designed according to circular economy principles.
Creative solutions to our global waste challenge
The entire notion of upcycling originated in Taiwan where the Miniwiz Co. has been tinkering with creative solutions to the waste challenge facing global companies for quite a few years. Pentatonic’s Johann Bödecker and Jamie Hall decided to “import” this upcycling ideology to Germany and establish circular economics in the country.
“We want our customers to see for themselves that their waste is valuable,” states Björn Schlingmann, Pentatonic’s leading design engineer. To convey the exact value of this waste, each item receives a serial number, allowing buyers to retrace all of its materials. Take the “Pentatonic Airtool Chair,” featuring aluminum from the Netherlands and PET from France. Altogether, it contains 400 grams of aluminum, one sneaker sole and 81 microwave wraps, amounting to raw materials worth €35.
Buyers are free to compose and assemble the comfortable seat pan chair in a variety of styles and colorways. They can even turn it into a table when combined with other modules. After all, Pentatonic products are all about modular design, allowing almost any purchase to be personalized according to personal preference, color, and shape.
Pentatonic source their raw materials from large European recycling operators. “The right quality is paramount,” Schlingmann underscores. Materials need to be cleanly separated, cleansed, and correctly processed. Once this is given, waste becomes a raw material like any other, the design engineer explains. Their only limitation: color options. “Obviously, you can’t really turn red plastic into white.”
Their favorite substrate are recycled plastics, from PET bottles or packaging materials. “Anything that ends up in the dedicated recycling bins for packaging waste in Germany, really,” adds Schlingmann. “PET bottles can be turned into excellent fibers, for example.” The resulting fibers can even trick our senses into perceiving them as natural woven fabrics. They are part of a range of materials developed and exclusively processed by Pentatonic.
At Pentatonic, form follows material. Their latest coup: a ring fashioned from discarded cigarette butts, the result of a collaboration with researchers and their shared enthusiasm for experimentation – even when the raw materials turn out to be less than ordinary.
Cooperation partners supply recycling materials
According to Schlingmann, Pentatonic has already processed around 120 tons of waste, tendency rising. Ultimately, they want to boost the demand for recycled materials, i. e. “raw inputs that should be used and are there for the taking.” It’s an approach more and more companies subscribe to. In Germany, Pentatonic already cooperates with international caffeine slinger Starbucks. In the designers’ labs, coffee cup lids are currently being turned into new ideas – and future products.
With a firm focus on new modules and further co-ops in the near future, Schlingmann’s team will be busy. And while he’s keeping mum on the exact nature of the upcoming projects (and waste materials), they’re bound to be worth waiting for.