Valdís Steinarsdóttir turns animal skin and bones into food packaging

Icelandic designer Valdís Steinarsdóttir turns meat industry by-products into containers made of bone and bioplastic material for packaging.


The Just Bones project saw Steinarsdottir creating containers from crushed animal bones, while Bioplastic Skin turns animal skin into wrapper for the same creature’s meat.

Both materials dissolve in hot water and biodegrade within weeks.

Above and above: Steinarsdóttir’s bioplastic skin is made from slaughterhouse waste

His designs are an attempt to find new ways to reuse the amount of waste produced by slaughterhouses.

“I found the processing of meat to be both an extremely difficult subject and a morally difficult one to explore,” Steinarsdóttir told Dezeen.

“In fact, that’s exactly what drove me to take it one step further, because I believe that as designers we have to be adamant and ready to deal with uncomfortable issues.”

“To make new discoveries, it is often good to look back and rethink accepted standards and established ways of doing things,” she added.

Just Bones vases
Just Bones vases are made from crushed bone

Steinarsdóttir sources materials from local slaughterhouses and farmers before transforming them into new materials. Bowls and Vases for Just Bones are made by grinding bone into powder, using an advanced mortar machine.

She likens the process to creating MDF, which is made by breaking down wood into fine particles bound together with wax and a resin binder.

The designer creates the glue that acts as a binder for her containers by putting the bones in acidic fruit extract, then boiling them to collect the gelatin.

“First, when I mix the material, it is liquid so that I can mold it, like ceramic molding. Once it dries, it becomes solid and I can drill it, saw it and cut it. laser, for example, “she explained.

“The material is biodegradable, which is a crucial part of all of my material research.”

Just Bones by Valdis Steinarsdottir
Vessels dissolve in hot water

Bone vessels remain firm as long as they are dry, but are not tight and dissolve in hot water in about a week.

The different colors of the containers are created by Steinarsdóttir – who makes all of her products herself – heating the bones to different temperatures.

“Because I make the material on a small scale, I prepare the bones myself,” she said. “I find this an important part of the project because I want to stay close to the process.”

Bone bowls
Heating the bone paste to different temperatures creates different colors

Similar to Just Bones, Bioplastic Skin was created in container form, but it’s a thinner material made from animal skins that Steinarsdóttir plans to use for food packaging. The designer based his production process on a historical method.

“The process of making bioplastic skin involves boiling animal hides to collect gelatin,” she explained.

“People have used this method for centuries to make wood glue. I modified this process to create the material like plastic.”

Ingredients for bioplastic skin
Steinarsdóttir boils animal skins to make gelatin

“I found that the natural state of the material is inelastic, so the experimentation was to find the best way to dry the material properly so that it doesn’t warp,” she added.

“To make the material soft, I experimented with mixing different ratios of sugar alcohol to it, to get a variety of flexibility.”

Biodegradable meat packaging
The Bioplastic Skin packaging can be used for the meat of the animal from which it comes

Like the bone vessels, Bioplastic Skin packaging is biodegradable, and Steinarsdóttir hopes it can eventually be used to contain meat from the same animal as the skin it comes from, creating a more sustainable way of packaging the meat.

The packaging, which takes a few weeks to biodegrade, could become a visual indication of the freshness of the products it contains.

“I would like the material to have the same expiration date as the meat in it,” the designer said.

“So instead of an expiration date, you can see if the packaging itself is deteriorating to determine if the product inside is expiring. “

Examples of plastic made from animal skin
It dissolves in water within a few weeks

Using these types of materials not only helps prevent waste, but can also help make the most of limited resources.

“I live on an island where you have to be aware of the materials or maybe even the lack of materials,” said Steinarsdóttir. “It is important to explore the discarded material from different angles and find new opportunities for use.”

“In this case, my goal is not to make more demand for animal products, but rather to use what already exists to reduce waste and experiment with the material being disposed of to discover their full potential.”

Steinarsdóttir was shortlisted for Emerging Designer of the Year at the Dezeen Awards 2020.

A number of designers are working on ways to create new materials from waste and organics. Kathrine Barbro Bendixen designed sculptural lamps from cow intestines, while this year’s first James Dyson sustainability award went to Carvey Ehren Maigue solar panels made from crop waste.

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