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Cartoneros – Cardboard Furniture

Collect and recycle cardboard into low-cost, high-design furniture.

Photo of Trenton DuVal
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Cartoneros is the name for the people who were forced by the economic collapse in Argentina to collect recyclable materials to be sold. While inspired from dire circumstances, this phenomenon demonstrates the ingenuity of people looking to provide for themselves.

Cartoneros furniture takes inspiration from these reluctant microentrpreneurs and turns it on its head. Collecting cardboard and producing useful and attractive furniture from it turns an act of desperation into an industry.

Cartoneros would collect used and scrap cardboard from the local community and surrounding environment and build lightweight, recycled, recyclable and beautiful furniture from it. Designers such as Frank Gehry have explored the idea of making functional furniture pieces from this plentiful and oft-wasted material. This would promote recycling, not as a social responsibility, but as a profit-making opportunity.

How do you envision this idea making money?

The furniture produced would be sold to domestic and international markets. The initial investment would be used to provide training, design, construction materials such as glue and cutting tools and a manufacturing space.

How does this idea create social impact, particularly around improving health?

This idea creates a social benefit in providing a new source of income, creating a market for the finished products and independent cardboard collection, and cleaning up the local environment.

How does this idea add social value at every step of the process?

An incentive for cardboard recycling is created while at the same time providing an opportunity for poorly-educated workers to create a respectable, marketable product. In addition, the furniture could become a hallmark of the community and a source of pride.

What are the short term steps we could take to implement this idea tomorrow?

Train a group of workers or provide them with instructions for how to make cardboard furniture pieces and then provide the requisite tools and materials; glue, cutting tools, e.g.


Join the conversation:

Photo of DeletedUser


Beginning from a possibly broad perspective, it is advisable to consider a "sustainable aspect as a necessary. An instant recollecting of Gehry´s "Beaver" came to my mind, just before I have red his name in the intro.
I doubt a bit, that the semiotical context of the Vitra´s "œuvre d'art" will be The Important Thing when we try to offer something to "cartoneros" in the situation, they are in. It is anyway a question of product duration, product cycle longevity and utility value with such a product, though produced as a support for the economically needy people. At Frank Gehry´s Grandpa Beaver armchair, has been offered at starting bid $2500.
What has to be added regarding this iconic armchair, that the Beaver resists better to the abrasion and all possible scratches by aging, than the deck chair shown here. It comes very much from the nature of the design itself, and one day it could be thrown away to the compost (lol) And this is quite peculiar, considering the purchase price, moreover I am sure, that Vitra does not deploy used cartboard but a virgin one.
Perhaps it is everything included in "metadesign context"; in building the right distribution channel from cartoneros to the buyer. But, who, except of low incomers will buy affordable furniture intended for shorter lifespan, perhaps aven a disposable one?
Could the relatively labour intensive furniture be offered for a reasnable price (not as a designer´s issue, as it is with Beaver?) what transport cost could be included, to maintain it within the reasonable limit?
And this is the way, it could be continued long time yet.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Really love this, Trenton! Wonder if some co-design workshops could be held between Cartoneros and local + foreign designers to include them in the design process and perhaps enhance motivation to participate in the initiative. I also really like that this Concept could be applied in other low-income communities – such as Mumbai's Dharavi where recycling is also highly active:

Photo of Trenton DuVal

Sure! You could have an international design competition as they do on designboom.
I would hope that because of the ubiquitous "raw material" this is a concept that can be replicated in a host of other countries. A further hope would be that it inspires people to find creative uses for scavenged or recycled materials beyond cardboard.

Photo of Meena Kadri

I prefer the idea that designs are devised *together* with folks on the ground. In Dharavi, Mumbai – ideas that come from outside are not so well received as ideas that are shaped together. Co-design workshops on the ground could be a great part of this program. Just a thought – hoping that others will chime in here with more builds and discussion ;^)