Furniture That Celebrates The Death of Single Use Plastic

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Cycl World creates conscious consumers by giving them no choice: their furniture is made from recycled plastic, is endlessly recyclable, and looks so good that the people who don’t care about economising waste will want it anyway.

Words by Megan Brownrigg

Photography by Duncan Jaoc

For Sonam and Rohan, if it’s not about a closed loop economy, it’s not their jam. The designers knew that creating furniture without waste wasn’t going to be easy, so they actively chose to do it the hard way. The pair swerved the obvious route of sustainable, functional, yet soulless pieces, and pushed themselves to create compelling designs, dripping in aesthetic consideration, which are both recycled and recyclable. Today, their company Cycl World uses post-industrial HDPE plastic to make stools, mirrors and lamps with artful lines that easily compete with those of virgin materials, and have no carbon on their conscience.

“Let’s unf**k the world!’ was the phrase between friends that birthed this business idea, according to co-founder Sonam. “Rohan and I had both been working in alternate design realms and noticing the sheer amount of waste that this pursuit of the most beautiful forms can produce. All the way from conceiving the idea, to the prototyping to the eventual packing and shipping – we saw so many different points of waste along that line.”

“People kind of got to a point with design where they wanted the ultimate beauty of something. We’ve tried to pull away from that and embrace imperfections.”

With his background as a landscape architect and vintage furniture reseller, Sonam tips me off on some of these ‘inefficiencies’. One which stands out is that wood is almost always laminated in production lines, immediately making it unrecyclable. “Even when you think you’re making this really pure organic product, you’re adding all these contaminants every step of the way,” he says. “Essentially, furniture had become fast furniture. And that was a really big issue for us.”

Sonam would love to tell me that consumers kick up a fuss about this, but he and Rohan found that most people don’t know and others don’t care. In an era of IKEA and Pinterest, most people just want nice stuff for their house. 

Spitballing, the friends asked themselves how they could build furniture that works within trending fashion cycles, but also be infinitely recyclable.

As a start-point, they opted for something which is already recycled: used plastic. They vowed to mould it in a way that it can be recycled again. This is what forms a closed loop, no waste economy. But does it make for pretty stuff?

“People kind of got to a point with design where they wanted the ultimate beauty of something. We’ve tried to pull away from that and embrace imperfections,” says Sonam. “But sustainability needs to be a basic parameter to tick off, it could never be our only selling point. We always need to make beautiful things.”

“But we wanted to go with the dirtiest contributor, so we stuck with it. Plus, plastic is also amazing at what it does.”

The echoing wave of Cycl World’s Nori stool, or the playful sprout of their Gummy mirror, are testament to this commitment. Sonam speaks of his years selling furniture around the world, with his partner Clare, before Cycl World was conceived. “We’ve handled so many pieces of furniture that we had a really good insight for designing. We know what a good piece should feel and look like,” he says. “I think an effective piece is a combination of something that’s familiar, something that’s organic and something that’s intriguing at the same time.” With Rohan’s advertising background also in their arsenal, the pair were equipped to nail these requirements. But a lot of the time it was practical challenges, rather than model visions, that got them to their final designs. The Nori stool, with legs which wiggle like seaweed, is a great example of this.

“We couldn’t bend the plastic into a U-shape because the mould would have cost $100,000 dollars,” Sonam says matter-of-factly. “So we just repeated the U-shape and added the wave to it, which gives it that rhythmic motion. As a result it looks alive and throws incredible shadows.”

“When they couldn’t get hold of heavily-regulated supply-chain plastic, they borrowed milk bottles from cafes and scoured creeks for refuse. For moulding prototypes, they used a blender and a sandwich press.”

The Nori might have been a fluke of cunning, but creating sexy, recyclable plastic furniture isn’t the easiest design brief that Sonam and Rohan have ever delivered themselves.

“Along the way, we had so many people saying: this is the worst material to work with, don’t do it to yourselves, just use virgin plastic,” Sonam laughs.

“But we wanted to go with the dirtiest contributor, so we stuck with it. Plus, plastic is also amazing at what it does. The longevity of it is its biggest issue when it’s in a single-use capacity, but when it’s designed and used properly, it’s a durable, waterproof, amazing material.

And also, for me, the more hurdles we come across and the more of those we break down, the more innovative what we’re doing is.”

It was very innovative, seeing as Sonam reckons that he and Rohan hit a hurdle every other day for the first five months. When they couldn’t get hold of heavily-regulated supply-chain plastic, they borrowed milk bottles from cafes and scoured creeks for refuse. For moulding prototypes, they used a blender and a sandwich press.

“Rohan and I don’t want to be gatekeepers about anything. We tell people everything that we do and how we do it and where we get it from. Because otherwise what’s the point?”

“Then we had to find machinists who were willing and able to cut recycled plastic to a high spec,” Sonam says like he’s talking about unicorns. “Plastic twists here and bows there, so cutting it properly takes someone special. After that, it was about finding the people willing to pick up huge (120kg) sheets of plastic in special trucks, and re-shred it and re-press it”

He takes a breath but the obstacles and innovation don’t end there.

“Design-wise, one of our biggest challenges was not using glue (it contaminates the plastic),” says Sonam. “And then there’s the shipping and the fact that packaging is the biggest waste-point of all. We custom-designed all our boxes in Melbourne and made sure they’re double walled to avoid using inserts or bubble wrap.”

You’d think that all of this hurdle hopping would make the Cycl World boys protective of their designs. But they’re almost willing to give them away. 

“You don’t live in a place with a 1 in 100 year flood every ten years, without it moving you.”

“Rohan and I don’t want to be gatekeepers about anything. We tell people everything that we do and how we do it and where we get it from. Because otherwise what’s the point?”

To save carbon, Sonam and Rohan would be more willing to give their designs over to someone in another country, than ship their own products there. Their goal isn’t to be unique, but to be pioneers of a new standard.

“If we could make what we’re doing a parameter you have to tick, the new normal, then we’ve done what we wanted to do,” Sonam says simply.

When askedwhether Australia’s role on the frontline of climate change has played into Cycl World’s existence, he nods pretty fast.

“You don’t live in a place with a 1 in 100 year flood every ten years, without it moving you. When the weather becomes so consistently inconsistent, you realise we’re really at the mercy of anything happening.” Sonam modestly recognises that Cycl World can’t fix our warming world’s problems, but he sees it as a small step towards addressing waste in a way which could ripple a wider response. “When we told Clare’s parents, they were so proud of me even though we hadn’t done anything yet!” he laughs. But it’s not just the unconditional support of parents that Cycl World has garnered, the company has already caught the curiosity of fellow designers, graphic artists and consumers around Australia. “Everyone’s been amazing and super keen and wants to know more. And now that we’ve done the high-concept beautiful pieces, we want to make more easily-produced pieces which people can use more often– like stackable stools.”

Digging into their ethos of using waste as a design start-point, Cycl World are also about to release a lamp that uses offcuts from the Nori stool and the Gummy mirror. Sonam jests how far this appetite for scraps could go, musing that in twenty years time, if the paradigms shift, waste could become so popular and ubiquitous that people will be like “Hey where can we get more waste? We’ve run out of waste!”

In the same beat as rolling his eyes at how fickle human trends can be, Sonam recognises that a global vogue for waste…is exactly what he’s after.

Learn more about Cycl World here.

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Megan Brownrigg

Megan Brownrigg is a British writer. As a freelance journalist, Megan has worked as a BBC radio producer and her writing has appeared in The Telegraph. She loves talking to people in their various places in the world, and believes it’s the best way to sustainably travel. Her blog The Ink Tapes describes her encounters in short stories.

2022-09-09T03:58:33+00:00Categories: Culture|Tags: , |