Sustainable Tech: Durable Products from Recycled Materials
UK design studio creating beautiful speakers and power banks with waste plastic bags and repurposed lithium batteries
UK design firm Gomi believes that technology products shouldn’t become obsolete. Rather, they should be beautiful, durable, repairable and have a circular lifespan.
Just five years old, the seven-person, Brighton, England-based studio uses waste plastic bags and recycled lithium batteries to produce its colorful audio speakers and power banks. Tom Meades, chief design officer and one of four co-founders, said in a Feb. 6 phone interview that each Gomi speaker uses the equivalent of 44 LDPE or LLDPE single-use bags that local UK councils had declared “unrecyclable.”
From waste to audio speakers
Additionally, Gomi in 2020 partnered with Lime, the world’s largest shared electric vehicle company, to take used lithium batteries from Lime’s damaged or outmoded e-bikes and scooters. “They donate their battery packs to us,” said Meades. With roughly 50 cells in each battery, he said they received about 50,000 cells in the first batch of batteries it received from Lime.
“The battery cells within these are healthy,“ Gomi says. “We test the cells in our studio on our diagnostic rack to check that they’re in perfect working order. Finally, we combine the cells to create the battery packs to power Gomi products.”
Friends join forces for durable products
Meades, a 2017 design graduate from the University of Brighton, says that Gomi began as a college research project. He experimented with waste plastics, which were abundant and free. Meades and three friends –– Rishi Gupta (now CEO), Pawan Saunya (chief product officer) and Kyle Brackenfield (chief engineering officer) –– decided to start Gomi in Brighton’s creative district.
They chose the name Gomi because it means waste or litter in Japanese. “We were always inspired by minimal Japanese design,” explains Meades, “and the contrast between beautiful minimalist design forms against using ugly waste materials.”
Working in a loft, in their spare time, they began humbly enough –– melting plastic bags in their kitchen ovens and then compressing them together using a car jack. The partners soon developed a customized type of compression molding machine and created what is now ‘the Gomi studio’ in the heart of Brighton. Brackenfield continued to tweak and modify the machine for years, until it now produces molded components with a “really, really premium, aesthetically pleasing” surface finish.
That has allowed high-end stores and retailers to stock the firm’s products because “we’ve found a way to make this waste stream beautiful.” Online Gomi lists its speakers –– which measure roughly 8 x 3.7 x 2.7 inches and feature unique, swirling colors –– for $330 each, and power banks for $99.
Customized compression molding
Unlike as with injection molding, using their compression molding process does not break the polymer chains in the polyethylene so readily. As a result, Meades said, “We’ve recycled some of our off-cuts 20 or 30 times without seeing any degradation” in properties.
“We’re still the only brand making consumer tech with repurposed battery cells in the world, that we know about,” he noted. Gomi just released a new line of $99 power banks, which feature a five-year warranty and repairs for the life of the product. The company –– which can mold about 250 power banks a day with just one person and one press –– plans to start shipping those products next month.
Meades –– who also lectures one day a week about responsible product design at his alma mater –– says Gomi now is seeking corporate customers for its power banks, especially those who buy products as gifts or giveaways. He says they can match Pantone and brand colors and custom engrave logos on the back.
“We want to be the sustainable alternative in that industry.”