Valdís Steinarsdóttir is Creating Packaging From the Byproducts of the Meat Industry

The Icelandic designer turns bones and skin cast out by slaughterhouses into containers and vessels that could serve as a sustainable solution to plastic packaging.

29.01.2021 | by Kezia Parkins
Photo via Valdís Steinarsdóttir
Photo via Valdís Steinarsdóttir

To combat our planets’ plastic pollution problem, industrial designers and bioengineers worldwide are racing to find more sustainable solutions.

The latest innovation to catch our attention comes from Icelandic designer Valdís Steinarsdóttir who is turning byproducts from the meat industry into packaging. 

The “Just Bones” project saw Steinarsdóttir create containers from ground animal bones, while “Bioplastic Skin” transforms animal skin into packaging to preserve the meat of the animal from which it came.

Both materials dissolve in hot water and biodegrade within weeks.

Her designs are a bid to find innovative ways of reusing the amount of waste that is produced by slaughterhouses.

“I found meat processing to be both an extremely hard and morally challenging topic to explore,” Steinarsdóttir told Dezeen.

“In fact, that was exactly what inspired me to go further, because I think as designers we need to be unflinching and ready to tackle uncomfortable issues.

“To make new discoveries, it is often good to look backwards and rethink accepted norms and established ways of doing things.” 

Steinarsdóttir sources her materials from local slaughterhouses and farmers. 

The bowls and vases for Just Bones are made by grinding down the bones to a powder, using an advanced mortar machine.

The designer creates the glue that works as a binder for her vessels by putting the bones in sour fruit extract and then boiling them to collect the gelatine.

“First when I mix the material it is liquid so I can mould it, similar to moulding ceramics. Once it has dried, it becomes strong and I can drill, saw, and laser cut it, for example,” she explained.

Just Bones vases are made from ground bones

To get the different colours Steinarsdóttir heats the bone at varying temperatures. 

The bone vessels stay firm as long as they’re dry, but aren’t waterproof and will dissolve in hot water in about a week.

valdis steinarsdottir

Her Bioplastic Skin is a much thinner material made from animal skins that Steinarsdóttir envisions being used for food packaging. To create it the designer made use of an age-old method.

Valdís Steinarsdóttir

The Bioplastic Skin packaging could be used for the meat of the animal it came from

Valdís Steinarsdóttir

“The process of making Bioplastic Skin involves boiling animal hides to collect gelatine,” she explained.

“People have been using this method for centuries to make wood glue. I modified this process in order to create the plastic-like material.”

To make the material more soft and flexible and thus suitable for packaging she experimented with adding different ratios of sugar alcohol.

Like the bone vessels, the Bioplastic Skin packaging is biodegradable and Steinarsdóttir hopes that in the future it could be used to contain meat from the same animal as a more sustainable way of packaging meat.

The skin, which takes a few weeks to biodegrade, could also serve as a visual indication of how fresh the meat products it contains are.

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