Trash or treasure: The designer objects made of rubbish

Party-popper chandeliers and hand-grenade lamps are lighting the way for a new trend
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The Independent Online

The phrase "green is the new black" is thrown around with great enthusiasm but, like any trend, will this 21st-century impulse towards green living soon start to look and sound dreary and outdated? There is an army of eco-savvy and inventive product designers out there who think not. From old baths rescued from the salvage yard and made into surprisingly comfortable armchairs to hand grenades gilded in gold or silver and used as oil lamps, a new generation of creatives is emerging who take the trouble to consider the past as well as the future life of their materials. By reusing existing resources, they hope to make a dent in the world's expanding waste mountain instead of adding to it.

Many of these ideas are showcased in the design book Cool Hunting Green, a photographic guide to this type of sustainable innovation. As the name suggests, the book steers well clear of any of the uglier trappings of an eco-lifestyle, such as energy-efficient light bulbs and home composters, in a bid to prove that aesthetics needn't be compromised in ecologically-sound design.

A large number of the designs featured are made from existing products, such as empty tin cans, pieces of old computers and even party poppers – pieces of tat and trash to which we would normally attach little or no value. Once they have been turned into unique accessories or household objects with a worthy philosophy behind them, however, their beauty becomes evident very quickly, even to people not known for their eco-credentials, such as the design expert Stephen Bayley, who finds some of the offerings "ingenious and charming" and is impressed by their intelligence.

High praise indeed from a man who has written at great length about his conviction that the great age of design has passed, because there is nothing we need which has not already been designed. "My heart sinks when I seesomebody else producing yet another design for a chair," he admits. "For so long in the history of design, designers were concerned about novelty and the next new thing. I don't think either culturally, economically or environmentally we're now so concerned with novelty in itself."

Designers are traditionally fiercely protective of their creations precisely because they believe them to be novel in some way, but one of those featured in Cool Hunting Green, RePlayGround, is happy to give away its ideas, explaining on its website how you can create DIY versions of the designs using rubbish lying around your own home.

Dave Evans, who collated the book following the success of his original Cool Hunting publication, is certain each design holds its own against anything made from more traditional materials. "One of the criteria for putting them in the book was that they had to be strong enough not to have to be in the green category, but just be good designs," he explains.

He decided to start work on the book when he noticed that a lot of the designs being pushed his way were products made from recycled materials. "A lot of the designers I'm in touch with are moving that way in terms of where they source their materials, and thinking more about the impact and the consequences of what they are doing," he says.

Green design seems to be making its way from the periphery towards the mainstream, and becoming something which is expected rather than novel or quirky. One day, hopes Evans, a product's green credentials will be in-built rather than a selling point.

Evans is convinced that there is plenty of mileage in this thoughtful use of existing objects over new, shiny and environmentally costly ones. So much so that he is already working on several new green publications, one covering fashion and accessories and another on green living. He accepts that there might be a glut of eco-books around at the moment, but he is not impressed by any of them, finding them worthy and didactic rather than inspirational.

His favourite design from the book is Stuart Haygarth's Millennium Chandelier, fashioned from 1,000 used party poppers collected from the streets and dance floors of London. "The way they are so precisely hung to create something that is extraordinary but made of very cheap plastic things really struck me," he says.

This is exactly the reaction Bayley expects from a good piece of design. "If something makes you smile and makes you feel good, then it is probably a very good piece of design," he says. "An awful lot of this stuff makes me smile."

'Cool Hunting Green' by Dave Evans, £12.99, To order this book for £11.69 (free p&p), call Independent Books Direct on 0870 079 8897 or visit

Bath and beyond

Israeli design duo Reddish say they like to "make objects feel better about themselves", and they have done a fine job with this tired old bath by transforming it into a groovy retro armchair with a touch of the Marcel Duchamp about it.

War bowl

Dominic Wilcox was searching for a new material to design with when he realised he could make one by melting down toy soldiers from the Battle of Waterloo. The bowl's conflicting message works as both a reminder of the playful aspect of childhood and the horrors of war.

Car sandal

Cars are the scourge of the green movement but the shoe designers at Terra Plana, who create wearable eco-friendly shoes, have come up with this simple design made from old bits of seatbelt and car tyres.

Function clock

RePlayGround founder Tiffany Threadgold makes a living out of devising clever new uses for old items and scrap. The function keys from a computer keyboard are dotted around an old stove burner to make this clock.


The Hanukkah menorah is brought down to earth with this masculine offering made from galvanised steel plumbing pipes. There is also a Femenorah, made from PVC pipes studded with Swarovski crystals.

Cutting up knives

Austrian Paul Kogelnig and Swiss Gabriel Heusser have crafted these bottle-openers out of old cutlery. According to them, "The future of mass production is mass customisation."

Millennium chandelier

Spare a thought for Stuart Haygarth, who was scrabbling around on the floor looking for empty party popper shells while you were seeing in the Millennium. For his pains, though, he came away with this stunning multicoloured chandelier, hung with 1,000 exploded party poppers.

6 pack

Reassembling an empty Heineken six pack as a vase and filling the cans with white tulips strips it of all its beery blokishness. French designers Atypyk just supply the plastic tray to hook the cans together, so you could fashion your own teetotal vase if desired.

Hand-grenade lamp

Spotting a hand grenade in someone's living room should set alarm bells ringing, but check they aren't the latest cool green design before running for the hills. Piet Houtenbos has cleverly re-commissioned these US army surplus grenades into satisfyingly chunky oil lamps.


Swiss designers Sergio Streun and Vincent Schertenleib design simple and functional objects for the home. This waste paper basket is handcrafted from exactly the product it is designed to collect – waste paper – and therefore each one is unique.

Beer and soda can rings

A few years ago American jewellery designer Dana Roth was shocked to discover how many beer cans littered the space around her workbench. Instead of searching out a 12-step programme, she set to work making pop-culture rings, bangles and cuffs out of the empties.

Happy blackout

An incredibly simple design which illuminates some of the issues around the finite supply of fossil fuels while looking great too. Making a feature out of energy consumption is a theme running through the products by German lighting company Stiletto.

Knit wit chunky bangle

Australian jewellery designer Liana Kabel blames her obsession with plastic on the fact that her mother was a Tupperware saleswoman, and says of her inspiration, "If it looks like a lolly, I like it". This bright red bangle, fashioned from an old, retro-style knitting needle, is no exception.

Silvana table

Beams of light reflect off the inside of the stainless steel base of this old washing machine drum on to the glass tabletop. Reestore's designers make a point of choosing contemporary finishes and fabrics over traditional eco-materials.


These trolley sound systems are a German design created in loving homage to the ghetto blaster, but you'll find it much easier to drag this to a party than an outsized Eighties sound system, and it has been updated for the MP3 generation.