Monday, May 9, 2022

Nagoya designer ‘upcycles’ trash into everyday chic products | The Asahi Shimbun: Breaking News, Japan News and Analysis – 朝日新聞デジタル

NAGOYA–Being forced to stay at home during the pandemic made Yuki Murakami realize how much trash and waste he was producing in the environment in his daily life. 

A junior at the Nagoya University of the Arts at the time, Murakami stopped using plastic products and turned his attention to natural materials.

He also took an interest in making “upcycled” products, which he had done in class. Upcycling refers to activities for upgrading articles that would usually have been thrown away and adding new value to them. 

Murakami looked for “familiar items whose only use is to be scrapped” and set his sights on banana skins.

He mixed them with other ingredients, including natural rubber, and came up with a leather-like material, which he named “banana leather” and presented as his graduation project.

Today, Murakami, 24, who lives in a two-bedroom home-cum-atelier in Nagoya’s Naka Ward, calls himself a “materials designer.” He said one of his daily concerns is how he can make the most of common waste items.

“It’s not that there is something I want to make,” he said. “It’s rather about how to make good use of available materials.”

COLLABORATION SEEKS TO CHANGE LIFESTYLES

Murakami and a group of entrepreneurs here are working on upcycling programs.

Their efforts have given new lives to items including milk designated for disposal, spent coffee grounds, and even banana skins, all of which have been reborn into chic products that blend in well with daily life.

Murakami last year developed yet another new material, “cafe-au-lait base,” by mixing spent coffee grounds with an adhesive made from milk that was designated for disposal.

He was looking for a material that would go well with coffee, which he drinks every day, when he learned that more milk was being thrown away because school lunches had been halted due to pandemic-driven school closures. That was when he was inspired to marry used coffee grounds with milk out of the cup.

The cafe-au-lait base is made by pouring a concrete-like semifluid, which retains the grainy texture of ground coffee, into a mold or daubing it onto another material and letting it dry.

The material, whose hue varies with coffee bean type and with extent of roasting, has an unaffected feel and texture that goes well with interior spaces of any style, be it Japanese or Western. It weighs little, despite its heavy outward look, and eventually returns to soil because it is made from naturally derived ingredients.

A lampshade and a flower vase made of the material has been on sale online since January.

Murakami is currently studying the combination of the material’s ingredients to improve its durability. He said he hopes to use the material in chairs, desks and other products as well in the future.

“I hope customers will sense the appeal of my works instead of buying them just because they are eco-friendly,” Murakami said. “Realizing that they are, in fact, made from waste materials could offer them an opportunity for changing their lifestyles.”

DEDICATED VENUE IN NAGOYA

A venue has been opened for supporting the activities of creators such as Murakami.

A research and development base for upcycled products was set up in Nagoya’s Naka Ward in January. 

The venue, whose name roughly translates as “upcycling research institute,” is operated by On-Co, a business venture for solving community problems, which is based in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture.

On-Co and Murakami in April jointly developed “Resecco,” a new material made from disused plasterboards.

Resecco, so named after “sekko,” the Japanese for plaster, is designed to look like artificial marble in texture.

Plasterboards are industrial waste items that are so costly to scrap that illegal dumping of plasterboards once became a societal problem. The developers thought up the idea for Resecco, eager to put up for sale something that people have to pay to dispose of.

On-Co plans to set up another base where creators can meet. Company officials said they are hoping to create a groundswell of similar movements out of Nagoya.

“We want to make good use of the waste discharged by different communities and different industries, all the more because we live in the Tokai region, home to thriving manufacturing industries,” said Kyohei Fujita, the 30-year-old co-head of On-Co. “We hope to serve as an adhesive of sorts for binding waste, communities and creators together.”

Upcycling differs from “recycling,” which is about reducing disused articles to raw materials and using the latter again, and from “reuse,” which is about repeatedly using articles that are no longer needed.

A certification system for upcycled products has been established in the United States by the Upcycled Food Association. A growing number of parties in Japan, mostly in the business sector, are also working on upcycling from the standpoint of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.



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