Can City: Brazil Makes Furniture From Waste and Cooking Oil

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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
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Moulded Aluminium
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A UK design studio is utilising Brazil’s successful aluminium can recycling program to create furniture.

In 2009, Brazil recycled 198,800 tonnes of can scrap, which works out to a 98.2 per cent recycling rate. Over 80 per cent of this recycling is collected by independent waste collectors known as catadores who pull handmade carts along the streets.

In 2010, the Business Commitment for Recycling (CEMPRE) association estimated that there were roughly one million catadores in Brazil, although only a small number work for official recycling programs.

Inspired by the informal system in São Paulo, Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves of Studio Swine developed a sustainable initiative entitled Can City that re-imagines the waste collected by Catadores of to create metal furniture.

The project saw the design duo create a mobile foundry that turns the streets into a production line. It operates on the city streets of São Paulo, collecting cooking oil waste from local cafes to utilise as a power source for a furnace that then melts the cans.

The liquefied aluminium is then poured into furniture moulds to create a series of stools. The moulds themselves are up-cycled using materials found from the street, including sand from local construction sites, while the foundry is also constructed from salvaged waste, including a scrap beer barrel.

Can City Metal Stools

Can City metal stools

“…Can City creates a system where their livelihoods can extend beyond rubbish collection,” Studio Swine’s website reads.

“Where the majority of carbon cost is in the transportation of goods rather than their production – ‘Can City’ explores the possibility of industry returning to our cities, using free metal and free fuel to produce an endless range of individually crafted aluminum items adaptable to customisations and able to ‘cast on demand.”

The first test run saw Can City unveil a series of café stools for the food market that provided them with the initial cooking oil waste.

Cooking Oil Power Source

Cooking oil provides power

Since moulds are created with the use of sand and other salvaged products, the seats are moulded by their sourced materials: in the shape of a hubcap, the design of a cane basket and in a leaf-inspired design.

The furniture is aesthetically interesting and practical and suggests that the moulds could extend to an array of other design crafted products.

A few hours away in the city of Belo Horizonte, an official catadore system is already in place. ASMARE, the Association of Catadores of Paper, Cardboard and Reusable Materials, was founded over 20 years ago and helps the city’s catadores turn collected waste into art, jewellery and furniture.

Liquified Aluminium, Sand Moulds

Liquified aluminium, sand moulds

“I have two jobs,’ ASMARE collector Edimar Ferreira, 39, told CNN in its documentary On the Road to Brazil. “I go and collect the trash and then I transform it into art. I make small sofas, wooden benches, tables, and other plastic adornments.”

“We have a phrase (at ASMARE): ‘o seu lixo e o meu luxo,’ (roughly translated as ‘your trash is our luxury.’)”

In terms of similar initiatives, Studio Swine also has a sustainable program in the Middle East entitled Construction Series which sees waste building materials from construction sites of Dubai collected and transformed into furniture.

Mobile Foundry

Mobile foundry

“During the Design Days Dubai 2013, (we) created one piece of furniture a day using reclaimed concrete, rebar offcuts, crushed marble and camel leather produced by UAE based tannery; in a style which both references the internal modular structures of skyscrapers and the traditional geometric patterns of the UAE,” the firm’s website says.

Along with changing the livelihoods of people on the street, these sustainable initiatives stand as benchmark where waste is perceived as a resource.

Even better is their mobility, with products manufactured on the streets, thereby removing the need for factory space.

Mobile Foundry

Mobile foundry

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