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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.

Evaluation results

12 evaluations so far

1. How well do you think this concept considers life in low-income communities?

It is highly relevant to low-income communities - 50%

It is somewhat relevant to low-income communities - 33.3%

It does not significantly consider low-income communities - 16.7%

2. How effectively does this concept use social business principles (that is, it has social benefits for the community but does not pay dividends?)

This concept uses social business principles very well - 37.5%

This concept could be easily modified to incorporate social business elements - 25%

This concept does not connect with social business very well - 37.5%

3. How easy would it be to implement this concept?

Easy! This could be started immediately - 42.9%

It would take some time and planning – but I bet I could see progress in the near future - 57.1%

This concept would need extensive planning, partnerships & resources in place to get going - 0%

4. To what extent will this concept improve people’s health?

This concept would significantly improve people’s health and wellbeing - 9.1%

This concept seems like it might improve health, although maybe indirectly - 9.1%

This concept doesn’t really have much to do with health - 81.8%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world! - 16.7%

I liked it but preferred others - 33.3%

It didn’t get me overly excited - 50%


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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.

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