Swedish interior architect and designer Carolina Härdh worked with Gothenburg restaurant Vrå to create furniture from the food waste generated in the restaurant’s kitchen. Using a combination of oyster shells, kelp, fish glue and rice starch, Härdh created stools as well as chopstick holders for the restaurant, where the menu is inspired by Japanese and Nordic cuisine.

“We seem to forget sometimes that humans are a part of an ecological system that in a natural way enriches each other and affects each other. So what we choose to put out in nature affects us in the end – through the food we eat, or through the material we surround ourselves with,” Härdh said.

According to Härdh, food waste is a global problem with over 30 percent of food going to landfill each year. In 2018 alone, Sweden disposed 1.3 million tonnes of food waste. Food waste could be seen as a valuable resource if we try to handle it differently, she observed.

Using the principles of industrial symbiosis, whereby wastes or by-products from one industry or industrial process become the raw materials for another, Härdh worked with Vrå to search for a biodegradable material that could be used for the restaurant’s interiors. Exploring their leftovers, she created a sustainable material made from rice starch, which serves as a binder in the material; fish glue made from fish bones, which glues all the components together; kelp, a brown algae seaweed, which when dry becomes hard, and serves as reinforcement; and oyster shells, which contain a high level of calcium carbonate and gives the material a hard concrete-like finish.

Härdh’s first creation from the material was the Gigas, a stool that could also be used as a sideboard in the restaurant. Featuring a smooth surface on the outside, the stool has a speckled, terrazzo-like finish. The leftover material was used to create Japanese chopstick holders called Hashioki. The designer explained that the chopstick holders serve as a small physical evidence of what is possible when raw food waste is handled in circular processes. Kept on the tables, Hashioki offers an opportunity to the guest to come close and have a tactile connection with the material.

The oysters are sustainably harvested locally from the Swedish west coast while the material production process is free from toxic elements. The designer keeps her production small-scale and limits it to the actual amount of waste from the restaurant. She collects her own waste materials for reuse in the production. Since the entire material is not used in production, the leftover is sent to the building’s rooftop garden as plant nutrition. The garden supplies some of the vegetables and herbs to the restaurant. This way, the circular loop is closed in the industrial symbiosis process, Härdh noted.

"It is possible to design a material out of food waste if we handle the resource with care," she concluded.