From landfill to living room

A sustainable design studio from Brighton is showing the world that non-recyclable plastic can have a place in your living room, rather than populate landfills.

by Nikhil Sreekandan

Tom Meades. © Gomi Design, Brighton UK

Tom Meades had this idea back in college, a sustainable design studio that would use non-recyclable plastic waste to make beautiful, handmade products that people can treasure.

Gomi, which translates to ‘trash’ in Japanese, is today a design studio based out of Brighton, United Kingdom that is paving the way for recycled plastic technology products.

Gomi Design won £10,000 from the Environment Now Programme to kickstart the project in January 2018, with further funding from the Santander Big Ideas Competition in June 2018.

The studio’s first product was the world’s first portable speaker made from flexible plastic waste. With more than 150 units sold in the last year, the studio is now focusing on brand collaboration projects, recently completing a project with Heineken.

We talk to Tom Meades, co-founder of Gomi, about sustainable design, non-recyclable plastics, and the future of the studio.

© Gomi Design, Brighton UK

INKLINE: What was the inspiration behind the creation of Gomi?

Tom Meades: The inspiration was really trying to find a use for non-recyclable waste in the UK. Trying to find a way to make it valuable.

We felt that making something like a Bluetooth speaker, which is a high-value product that people will love and treasure, and use on fun occasions is something that is going to last and that people are going to see as a valuable item.

Hopefully, in the future, when they see plastic waste, they will think, ‘Hang on a minute, we don’t need to throw that away, it can actually be valuable’.

I: Are your portable speakers 100% recyclable? Also, why a Bluetooth speaker as your first product?

T: All the casing is a 100% recyclable. The other components, we are working with local sound engineers to provide them back any components they can use. Also, some of the electronic people we are in contact with might be able to use some of the e-waste. We are just trying to make it as environmentally friendly as possible.

We only use plastic that would have otherwise ended up in some landfill or would have been burnt. Each of our speakers offsets about 1.5kg of plastic from entering the environment. And, anyone can return them for repairs, we will fix it and send it back.

Why a Bluetooth speaker? It is something that can sit on your shelf, and you can look at when you sit down in your lounge, your living room, and you can be like: ‘Hey, check out that beautiful interior design piece, it is made completely from materials that would otherwise pollute the environment.’ So, for us, it ticked all the boxes, of being a portable, enjoyable, functional product.

© Gomi Design, Brighton UK

I: Could you take us through the process, how you convert non-recyclable plastics into such beautiful products?

T: We take the plastic, clean it in-house, heat it until it turns malleable and pulpy, and then press them into our compression moulds.

We use old-school automotive moulds that we press together, to solidify the material, and once cooled, we remove it from the moulds and we’ve got our pieces.

© Gomi Design, Brighton UK

I: You did a round of funding on Kickstarter. What next?

T: We started with some crowdfunding last year, but it wasn’t successful. So, we just stopped it. We have had a few brands who wanted to work with us, so we have been busy with that.

We just finished a project with Desperados – Heineken. They wrote to us and said: ‘Hey guys, we see what you are doing. We are throwing a big party in Berlin, and we’d love to use the waste from our party to design a line of speakers by you guys. Do you want to do it?’

It was a great opportunity to make loads of speakers, which we were going to do from our crowdfunding anyway, and to work on a live project that was going to stop a load of waste.

I: More collaborations then is the way to go forward?

T: Definitely. Gomi is not a product-seller. We are a design studio, a sustainable design studio, which works with waste.

We want to show brands that the plastic waste they dump in landfills can be valuable, that if you invest some money in getting it back to you or setting up collection points, it is worthwhile.

© Gomi Design, Brighton UK

So, when we are working with these brands, we get them to ship their waste to us or if it is local, we go and pick it up ourselves. Then we work with the design, and they can sell themselves what we produce for them.

We want them to embrace this idea, rather than think from this old-fashioned point of view that it is just waste. It does not have to be like that anymore, and we want to improve that.

I: How many speakers have you shipped so far?

T: We have probably shipped around 150 speakers now.

Every couple of months, we release limited edition batches of these speakers, where every one of them is individual and unique. If you have one, it is yours. No one’s going to have the same.

You can get them directly from our website. We are doing a drop by the end of November.

I: What has been the most difficult hurdle to cross?

T: I think just working with the new material, in general. Even with quite a simple shape, sometimes, there are just so many hurdles to overcome in terms of heating it, moulding it, just making it do what we want it to do. Because we are using waste plastic, sometimes there are mixtures of densities of plastic and different shrink rates etc. which has been a massive challenge.

© Gomi Design, Brighton UK

I: Do people really care enough about the environment to spend money on a product that is made out of non-recyclable waste?

T: I think it depends on the consumer, this whole new generation, Gen Z, who are coming through, they are so unbelievably aware of the impact they will have on the environment every day.

They are the people who have been so supportive of us, really pushed us on social media, and been sharing our work everywhere. It has been amazing.

Of course, it is much harder to speak to older generations because they’ve not been as exposed to it in the media or at school from a young age.

I: What are the future goals and ambitions of the organisation?

T: We have got some really exciting collaborations coming up in the next few months, which we are really happy about. Just building on this really, working on new product ranges, and hoping to set up a much bigger workspace in the UK and maybe abroad.

We are looking at small pieces of furniture and other smaller items like portable chargers. Also, collaborations on a much bigger scale than what we have done so far.

© Gomi Design, Brighton UK

I: Your advice to our readers to help beat plastic pollution?

Also, the plastic we are working with at the moment is only flexible packaging waste. We are working with brands to take other types of plastic as well.

T: The main thing is to be aware and conscious of one’s consumption. What are you buying, what are on your products, are your fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic? If you are buying it, then that is the reason people are going to be selling it. That’s the first thing that we will recommend.

And, we will work from the other end and use all the plastic that has already been created, and try and find the solution for that.

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