“There’s a growing market for and recognition of design for good,” says Design Week editor Tom Banks. “It will only get bigger exponentially as we hurtle towards our own destruction.” He might sound gloomy, but he’s not. This is partly thanks to the continued work of young designer Pontus Törnqvist, winner of the Swedish leg of 2018’s James Dyson Award and student of industrial design at Lund University.
Törnqvist's potato plastic is a material made from potato starch fabricated into singleuse items such as cutlery. Unlike normal plastic, it breaks down completely in under two months. “While these projects are sometimes seen to lack the glamour, which might warrant them more attention, this will surely change as social designers command a more equitable part of the design landscape,” says Banks.
Törnqvist began the project as part of his university course's brief to look at the impact of the fast food industry on the environment. “Plastic is a great material in many ways,” he says, “but there is an ambiguity in using it for disposable products since it gives them the capacity to last for 450 years, whereas the period of use is most commonly around 20 minutes”.
The potato aspect started as a mistake. “I experimented a lot with seaweed and tried to find possible binders for it, and one of them was potato starch and water,” he explains. “I accidentally spilled some of the fluid, and later on I found that it had dried to a plastic-like film.” Potatoes weren't just perfect properties-wise, but also because so many of them are grown in his native Sweden. His focus is on local production and circular — rather than linear — production.
The product had to look good, too. Its “bubbly” appearance is, again, accidental, but “I think that'll enhance the character of it,” he says, adding, “this is a low quality product simply because I have adapted the material's quality to its purpose. They shouldn't be used more than once: today's disposable products are much too good for their purpose”.
“There’s a growing market for and recognition of design for good” TOM BANKS, DESIGN WEEK EDITOR
This page: Törnqvist’s work has led him to experiment with potato plastic in different material forms — forks and saltbags included.