Can you guess what are some common plastic items in the ocean, lakes, and rivers around the world? Well, the answer that OnMateria found was single items, such as toothbrushes, combs, razors, and Q-tips. These objects may be convenient but sadly many times end up polluting our oceans, rivers, and lakes.
OnMateria decided to tackle the issue of single-use plastics by rethinking the amenity kit for hotels. Not only is their goal to raise awareness of the issues, plastic pollution, but to provide a solution to this problem with Green Box. This concept design goes one step further as every stage of Greenbox’s life cycle is sustainable and eco-friendly. Green Box not only raises awareness to the hotel customers about new compostable materials, but its circular design can actively reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the water streams.
Luckily, I had a chance to meet OnMateria and interview them about Green Box and what OnMateria hopes to achieve. Keep on reading to find out more about the amazing Green Box, and how OnMateria created a possible solution that not only educates consumers but is sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Let’s Meet OnMateria
First off, you might be wondering what is OnMateria? What do they do?
OnMateria is a design firm located in Sweden, it is currently being operated by three members, Eléa, Lola, and James. All three members share the constant themes of sustainability, product functionality, and the goal of problem-solving through design are what connect and bring them together as OnMateria.
Eléa grew up in France and decided to study in the United Kingdom. In the UK, she explored the variety of different branches of the creative industry, such as fashion design, interior design, graphic design, and of course, product design. While focusing on the craft and designs, Eléa discovered that she is not only interested in designing for decorative purposes, but the materials and functionality, the production, and lastly, what problem can this item solve or what can it provide for everyday life users. In addition, with the influence of living in the countryside by the sea, being respectful and preserving nature is a constant theme for Eléa.
Lola grew up in Mallorca, Spain, and started out with a background in industrial design, from then on, she traveled around Europe learning, interning, and mastering different types of designs. Her design journey is similar to her creative process, it is like evolution, which includes touching different areas from graphic design and industrial design, looking at the product as a whole totality. By looking at the bigger picture, one can find more sustainable options. With the different experiences, Lola realized the type of designer she wants to become is a problem solver. While beautiful items are aesthetically pleasing, however, functionally is just as important.
James grew up in England and where he had access to wood and different materials through his father. This led to his interest in carpentry and getting hands-on with materials, such as playing around with ceramic, plastics, and metal. James wants to understand the material to solve problems instead of going around them, and that often leads to many hands-on projects or technical problem-solving. Throughout his design journey, not wasting materials and using the right material to solve the right problems was his constant goal in designing. With OnMateria, James had the chance to explore different materials and solve problems.
You must be wondering how did the three of them meet? Well, Eléa and James met in the UK while studying, as for Lola, she met Eléa and James during their Master in Product Design at ECAL in Switzerland. The three of them not only had similar interests and outlooks of product design, but after graduating, coincidentally, all three of them moved to Sweden, where OnMateria was formed. Where the three would take on different real-life problems and solve with designs that are sustainable and provide functionality.
Essence of OnMateria
How is Onmateria different from other design firms?
OnMateria has unique core pillars that somewhat make them different from other design firms.
Based on the interview, it seems like they are three problem solvers with each with a colorful design background. Together the three of them tackle the different issues in society and hope to help more people understand the problems and provide possible solutions. OnMateria is unique to other design firms in terms of the process that OnMateria takes when designing.
“When there is a product, [OnMateria] not only try to design the product itself, but also the systems around it those systems are called value chains – so the steps that are in place to create value in a product, or to hold value (like with recycling waste material back into production). It can be different parts of the steps to create and make sure that a product has a good and long lifecycle. [They try] to go one step further than just looking at the product. It’s everything around it and [they] try [their] best to think in those steps, what is most ethical but also efficient? What produces less waste? And try to look into the details of things, so that often involves a lot of research.”
In addition, James mentioned how they “use [their] platform, as designers who can connect many different industries and tell a real story” about the products and their context. A product that is not just to better the people, but also the environment is important. Taking into consideration the ethics of making and creating involves understanding the users, producers, and the afterlife of the product is very important for OnMateria.
But to truly understand OnMateria, we need to understand their core pillars.
There are four main core pillars for OnMateria. These pillars further make OnMateria distinctive in their own ways, while achieving the three member’s goals and objectives as designers.
Understanding the process is very important, this includes the process of making this product, the process of how the materials were made, how the product will be broken down at the end up of the life cycle, and so on.
As Eléa would put it, “Everything around design and what is the process there, so from the raw material …like linen [for example], it comes from a seed. And then we want to understand everything from the soil, where it grows, to then the material when it’s starting to be produced -how it [can be] refined, how we can use it in different ways, and how it can be transformed. [The innovations] also are there, so we’re looking at it a little bit in a cyclic process.” Designing in terms of the entire cycle of the product, starting from the seed to the soil, and lastly to what the product will become at the very end [possibly feeding back into the soil for growing].
Then it is important that the cycle makes sense. For example, if the product is designed in Sweden using Swedish’s local waste management system as the basis, but the product is meant for Japan, which has an entirely different waste system, then the design and the cycle don’t make sense. Lola then added that it also needs to make sense for the users, which means they would analyze how users use the product normally, and what happens when it is thrown away, and what is the problem with the current method, what can be improved, and so on.
Awareness is really important to OnMateria, the awareness they have as designers, and the awareness they can provide for the users. As James said, OnMateria believes that they “have the responsibility as designers to try to promote positive change and by the things that we’re creating”. The idea of being more sustainable is about “building the awareness to understand how and what is better because rather than just comparing new things to old things, there might be a bigger way of thinking, like smaller actions can add up and smaller interventions with the product can also make the whole value chain better because you influencing the way people behave, the way people want to consume.”
As a three-person firm, collaboration is extremely crucial for OnMateria. In order to cover as much information as they can, help each other and supporting each other is very important. Where they would bounce ideas off each other or provide guidance when needed. Also, the collaboration also means the different industries, the makers, producers, and the clients. As designers where they can meet and collaborate with different industries and learn is really valuable.
As Lola explained that greenwashing is a very big problem. Being honest is extremely important in sustainability especially because the “reality is that we are living is a very complicated ecosystem, with ourselves, with nature, with our material objects, etc. Many of the solutions that actually work in one place you cannot copy-paste to another”. So it is important, to be honest about the problem and the possible solutions. In addition, if you truly want to raise awareness and make a difference, the motives need to come from honesty, as they are very aware of. “For us, it’s more important to let you know what it means for you or what could be that what is the impact of that product because we are very aware of greenwashing.” And being honest can help explain the complexity of the issues while making a difference.
Green Box is a compostable and eco-friendly amenity kit that educates the hotel’s customers on plastic waste. OnMateria made sure every stage of the Green Box life cycle is sustainable for the hotel, the users, and of course the producers.
The Green Box amenity kit includes a toothbrush, a comb, a razor, and Q-tips, and a waste bin. One side of this bin is green with a long and thin opening that is labeled as a compost box, and on the other side, is white and has a small circular opening with the label Bin. You would use these amenities regularly, and once you are done, just simply follow the instructions to detach the white parts, toothbrush’s head, razor’s head, and throw them into the white bin, and the green handles go into the green compost bin. Not only will the user understand that different kinds of plastic need different types of disposal, but that even the most insignificant products like toothbrushes, Q-tips can become plastic pollutions. By properly disposing of plastic can lead to more efficient waste management and less pollution.
Green Box was a result of extensive research started as a reaction to the quantity of plastic pollution found in the lakes in Switzerland. Leading Eléa to take a closer look into the single-use plastic items and how they are used by the hotel industry in particular; how they are produced and what are some possible solutions.
“What was the hardest part throughout the research and creating Green Box’s concept?”
According to Eléa, was to make sure Green Box fits into a cycle, “that [the] circularity approach was to make sure to understand every bit of the process and of the value chain in order to be able to create something that was watertight and to make sure that that it all made sense.” Such as understanding the current amenity kits; what kind of material is used, how customers used them, to choosing the right bioplastic then what will happen to the bioplastic once the toothbrush is thrown away. Figuring out all the tiny details and making sure each step is the most ethical and sustainable, and that it fits in a cycle. By making sure everything fits into the circularity is time-consuming, however very rewarding and fun, it is like finding the last piece to the puzzle.
OnMateria even went so far as into making sure the pigment that was used in Green Box was sustainable and non-synthetic, so once the bioplastic is decomposed and put back into the soil as fertilizer for plants there are no harmful chemicals.
Starting from the plant/crop that is made into bioplastic, this bioplastic is then molded into Green Box. Each hotel room will have its own amenity kit, once it is used by customers, they separate each piece. Properly placing the white combustible pieces into the white part of the bin and the green compostable parts in the green. This exercise will help to educate the users about new waste streams. Next, due to the controlled environment of the hotel, all Greenbox can be separated into combustible waste [white], and industrial compost [green] – in which during this process, high temperature and moisture will breakdown the green parts, and thus, releasing biogas (energy) which can then be transformed into electricity. The leftover compost goes back to the soil as fertilizer for crops that were used to make the bioplastic in the first place. While the white parts of the amenity are not composted but combusted due to hygiene issues. The combustion can also then create energy that heats up cities and so on.
More of OnMateria
Green Box is one of many projects that OnMateria has created. Other noteworthy projects include Baked – a unique snowboard made from flax fiber that can transform winter sports. Another current ongoing project is for local tourism in Sweden. Both of these projects embody OnMateria’s core pillars, process, awareness, collaboration and honesty, and the mindset of solving problems through design.
OnMateria will continue to solve problems for a more sustainable future while raising awareness to the users. Not only will they be conscious of the users, producers, partners, the planet, and of course, the product’s life cycle and the afterlife.
“Design is the way to look at things that you CAN solve many problems. It’s fantastic to try to use that in the projects we do, to make them sustainable and raise awareness.” – James
“We will take opportunities that come our way and ‘turn them’, in the best way possible for that [problematic], for the planet, for the consumer, for the problem solving around it, and for ourselves. So keeping a positive mind and approach to what surrounds us, and that there is always a solution to this problem, and the fact that it’s also ‘every little help.” – Eléa
“We need to make a little improvement. And if everybody would have tried to get a little improvement, we would probably collectively solve the big problems” – Lola
If you are interested in the Green Box, please check out OnMateria’s website.
P.S. Green Box is a concept design, so if you are interested in creating this wonderful product, please contact OnMateria directly.
To Potential Partners: “It’s very much to say that we need to understand your needs, because that when you take into account the specific waste streams in which country, they’re in. There are certain specifics that we need to work around to make it actually the best solution possible for you.” – OnMateria