Microbe Grown Headphones Offer Hope In Fight Against Plastic Waste

Finnish design house Aivan has shown how its ‘Korvaa’ headphones can be made from natural, microbe-grown, biodegradable materials, thereby offering hope in reducing the amount of plastic waste that goes to landfill or litters the natural world.

Natural Prototype

Although the headphones don’t actually work, the concept that has been created shows how a mixture of fungus, bioplastics, and other natural materials could provide an eco-friendly and equally as functional replacement for the kinds of non-biodegradable toxic plastics and materials that in a throwaway society would end up polluting the environment long into the future.

Design house Avia worked with scientists from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Aalto University, to show how a three-dimensional object that’s familiar to consumers and contains a variety of materials could be made from natural and biodegradable materials.

Made of What?

Aivan’s concept for headphones shows how the main structure for the crown and cup shell can be made from a 3D-printed bioplastic that is a by-product of yeast processing lactic acid.

The padded earpieces can be made from the ‘hydrophobi’ protein which acts like foam because it has bubbles produced by a fungus and reinforced with plant cellulose. The padding can be covered with a fungus-derived mycelium that provides an alternative leathery and flexible material.  A mesh, made from synthetic spider silk can then be placed over the top of the speakers in the headphones

Synthetic Biology

The Korvaa prototype headphones, which took 6 months to develop and used materials which had to be grown rather than simply made in a chemical process are an example of synthetic biology/synbio which is a technology and discipline that fuses engineering with biology to fabricate materials, produce energy and treat illness.

On Display

The Korvaa team’s headphones will be displayed at Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale 2019 (19 May to 19 September), and at Helsinki Design Week 2019 from 5-15 September 2019.

Others

There are companies already marketing eco-friendlier and more sustainable tech and music hardware products such as House of Marley speakers made from natural materials (alongside recycled metals and plastic), as well as ‘LSTN’ and ‘Thinksound’, both of which use wood in their headphones.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the Korvaa headphones don’t work, they do show how microbially grown materials can have a real-life, value-adding application in terms of providing the same functionality as plastic counterparts, but without the long-term environmental risk.  Also, with more research and development, these types of new materials with improved properties could replace plastics in the future, thereby helping to tackle a major environmental issue.  This may of course take time, and there are likely to be cost and other implications for producing goods of this kind.  Nevertheless, it is likely that today’s consumer will find biodegradable goods of this kind an attractive option if they provide equivalent benefits and performance to the existing options, at a price that isn’t prohibitive.

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