It’s well known that carbon dioxide and methane emissions are contributing to climate change. In a small way, one new home product is doing its part to curb those emissions, and it’s proof that beautifully made products can multitask and do good at the same time.
The product in question is the Potted Carbon Planter, launching Monday on Kickstarter. It’s a medium-sized, off-white planter with a black speckled treatment that could easily fit in at West Elm or CB2. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Those specks are actually made from organic waste that was diverted from landfills.
When organic waste such as food scraps or yard trimmings is sent to the landfill, it does decompose (compared to inorganic substances such as plastic, which simply break down into microplastics). But even then, organic waste can release greenhouse gas emissions because when it’s trapped under nonorganic materials such as plastic, the oxygen supply is cut off. That forces the organic material to decompose anaerobically and release methane, which can be 25 to 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
The Potted Carbon Planter is a small and inventive way to sequester those emissions, by giving organic waste a new life. It’s a collaboration between Bioforcetech, a California-based company that transforms waste into energy and biocharcoal; Oakland-based design studio Break, which specializes in slip-cast ceramics; and design firm Sum Studio.
The planter is made with a unique ingredient: a waste-based material called OurCarbon. Developed by Bioforcetech, OurCarbon is a biocharcoal made from organics that are diverted from landfills. It also has a lot of end uses: as a soil additive, a black colorant for textiles, material additive, and more. In this instance, it takes the form of pellets that are mixed with porcelain clay.
For such a streamlined final product, it had its fair share of design challenges. Break and Sum Studio tested several different combinations of organic waste from OurCarbon before landing on a material makeup that would vitrify in the kiln. At that point, the torch was passed to Break founder Lawrence Davidson, who sifted and rinsed the OurCarbon granules to get a homogenous size that he mixed with the porcelain slip.
Once it’s mixed with porcelain, it’s poured into a mold and fired, which binds the two materials together. The result creates a subtle contrast between the creamy white porcelain and the small pieces of grit—sanitized remnants of waste silica that flows through our waste systems. Davidson will produce each piece out of his studio in Oakland.
Sum Studio designed the simple shape of the planter, which has two indentations on opposing sides to harken back to ancient vessels and encourage you to grasp it. The flat face calls attention to the main design feature: its material.
Much like urns, pots, and altars of past generations, Elizabeth Bridges, a cofounder of Sum Studio, hopes the Potted Carbon planter will tell a story about our current values. “We designed Potted Carbon with the intention of creating an ideal ‘future artifact,'” she says. “We hope that our future generations can find this object and know that we saw our ‘waste’ as beautiful and utilized it to mitigate this climate crisis.’
Should they receive enough support via their Kickstarter campaign, they plan to produce variations on the original design in a limited run, according to Bridges. The Potted Carbon planter will retail for $150—but the early-bird pricing starts at $70. The campaign ends on Earth Day, April 22.