Plastic straws are a thing of the past, but which reusable straw is best for the future?

September 21, 2018 by  
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The days where plastic straws and their wrappers litter the countertops of restaurants, coffee shops and fast food joints are nearing the end. With several governments, like Australia and the U.K. , banning and taxing single-use plastic items and companies like Starbucks, Disney and Hyatt taking their own environmental stand by rejecting plastic straws, sustainable and reusable varieties of the pipettes have been growing in popularity. Nowadays, it’s no longer about what color straw you’re sporting, but which reusable material you’ll choose. According to the research firm Freedonia Group , Americans reduced their previous consumption of plastic straws by 110 million units in the last year alone. As momentum gains, consumers may now be getting purchase paralysis because of the sheer number of options. Metal, bamboo, silicone, glass — there are many options available when selecting an alternative to single-use plastic straws. The question is, which one is the best? Related: Starbucks ditches plastic straws for the environment There are several factors to consider when selecting a more sustainable option for sipping energizing morning smoothies and indulgent midnight milkshakes. Between lifespan and durability, width and length, taste, feel, shape and cleanliness, there are many variables to reusable straws that could make the leap to convert challenging. Are straws necessary? Before even delving into these seemingly negligible details some may ask, “Are the liquid chutes superfluous altogether? Do I even need straws at all?” Considering the widespread pollution that has been caused by disposable straws, eliminating the meal accessories seems like the best overall option. According to a report by 4Ocean , an organization dedicated to repurposing marine plastics to clear the ocean of pollution, a plastic straw can take up to 200 years to decompose. In the meantime, the harmful microplastics eventually disintegrate and contaminate our planet’s air, water and soil, poisoning wildlife and finding their way into our food. As a result, many people are now swearing by a straw-free lifestyle. But there are many reasons, such as dietary restrictions and health issues, that still call for the existence of straws. Related: UK plans to ban the sales of plastic straws to tackle ocean plastic pollution Factors to consider when purchasing reusable straws It’s no surprise that size tops the list of considerations when purchasing reusable straws. Both length and width are important depending on what type of liquid one intends to drink and from which assortment of container. Standard straws measure approximately 7.5-8 inches in length. Those who prefer to drink out of small glasses and coffee mugs are better suited with cocktail-sized straws. The miniature varieties span between 5 and 6 inches, while the longest options settle around 10 inches, although more extensive models can be found for tumbler and thermos users. A stress of function over form has become the sustainable-straw-purchasing mantra. Smoothies, bubble teas and shakes warrant straws with wider diameters, while less viscous beverages like water, juice and soda that are not semi-solid or thick can be easily consumed through thinner straws. Popular diameters range from around 7mm to 15mm (between 1/4 and 1/2 inches). Shape also comes into play: straight, bent, retractable, flexible — all of these have become important in the straw trade. Ultimately, most individuals would see these factors as a matter of personal preference. Given that straight straws, short straws and wide-rimmed straws are much easier to clean than their counterparts, they are the most hygienic options for users. It is this quality that makes them the most sustainable choices for new consumers, simply because they have a longer lifespan. Otherwise, unkempt straws get thrown out, and a long-term solution to plastic pollution could turn into another mass consumption (and pollution) trend. Steel straws When considering materials, stainless steel has become the most popular go-to material for reusable straw fans. The metal has odor-resisting properties and is the most durable material available for straws. Steel options are also the most widely available on the market because of their heat conducting properties. A cold drink is best enjoyed through a metal straw, because it maintains a crisp and refreshing temperature for the drinker. Unless consumers are turned off by the metallic flavor that steel can sometimes add to beverages, have sensitive teeth that are disturbed by the hardness of the straw or drink many hot beverages, metal straws serve as the best possible option. Silicone straws Those who prefer softer, more flexible straws may turn to silicone. But according to  Life Without Plastic , this material, which is generally categorized as a rubber, is actually similar to a hybrid between synthetic rubber and synthetic plastic polymer. The organization cites Beth Terry, author of Plastic Free , who said, “First of all, silicone is no more ‘natural’ than fossil-based plastic. It is a man-made polymer, but instead of a carbon backbone like plastic, it has a backbone of silicon and oxygen … the hydrocarbons in silicone come from fossil sources like petroleum and natural gas.” If this isn’t enough of a deterrent, the same silky texture that makes many people gravitate toward the silicone models is also to blame for its difficulty to wash. Silicone can harbor mold-forming bacteria, and it takes on unpleasant odors after continuous use. Bamboo straws With bamboo, consumers may see a reduction in availability. While bamboo straws might not be breakable, they ultimately do not hold up to long-term wear and tear. In addition, bamboo straws are the most difficult to clean of all the materials. Being naturally made from bamboo shoots, there is not a lot of precision in the shape and width to which they are constructed, making it hard to find the right kind of brush to use on them. Sadly enough, because of the chalky texture they leave in the mouth, bamboo straws inevitably fall lower on the enjoyment scale — despite the tropical taste they can generously impart to beverages. Glass straws In the end, there is only one other material that can compete with stainless steel in terms of sustainability: glass . Layered and tempered, glass straws are surprisingly durable and will not break easily if dropped or accidentally mishandled. Glass is a close runner-up to metal’s conductivity, and interestingly enough, it is capable of transferring hot liquids without burning the user. Because the glass is clear, making sure the straw is well-cleaned between uses is as simple as it gets. With no odor and no funny tastes imparted to the drinker, glass straws are a viable alternative to metal straws for the socially-conscious sipper. In the end, whether plastic straws are replaced with metal, glass or any other alternative, this trendsetting movement is turning a new leaf for the environment on a historical scale. Via Time , Going Zero Waste , Get Green Now ,  4Ocean and Life Without Plastic Images via Osha Key , Mark Pazolli , Glass Dharma and Shutterstock

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Plastic straws are a thing of the past, but which reusable straw is best for the future?

Dairy farmers’ excess milk gets a second life feeding the hungry

July 3, 2018 by  
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Automation may have caused a significant surplus of dairy products and a corresponding price drop, but one non-profit has stepped up to ensure food – and farms – don’t go to waste. Philabundance , a food bank in Philadelphia, is working with cow ranchers to help sell their foods while also keeping hungry families fed in the city. After shifting their farming focus away from traditional milk packaging and sales, Pennsylvania’s dairy farmers struggled to keep family businesses afloat. According to a study by the Center for Dairy Excellence , 120 Pennsylvania dairy farms closed their gates for good in 2016. Related: Transfernation volunteers will deliver your leftover party food to homeless shelters That’s where Philabundance came into the picture. Working with farmers across the state, the organization wanted to purchase excess dairy products to feed hungry families in Philadelphia. Traditionally, extra skim milk was dumped because farms didn’t have the equipment to turn the surplus into cheese or yogurt. In 2016, Pennsylvania farmers alone discarded 43 million gallons of excess milk. But with state funds provided by the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System and the cooperation of dairy farms, Philabundance and other food banks purchased over 60,000 gallons of excess milk destined for waste and turned it into cheese. The result was a new food source for food banks and $165,000 in revenue for farmers. This partnership quickly turned into a much bigger idea: turning excess milk into artisan cheese. Philabundance took the lead by buying even more milk to produce the same food products , then selling them under the name “Abundantly Good.” The products went on sale through three retail partners, a direct-to-restaurant seller and an online shop . One dollar from each sale goes back to farmers, subsidizing the milk set aside for food donations. In one year, farmers sold $9,000 worth of products each and prevented further food waste. With the success of the cheese sales and donation programs, Philabundance is testing other products for retail shelves, including drinkable yogurt. The group is also expanding its line to include foods like spiced tomato jam. Much like the dairy program, portions of the sales go back to farmers who turn their crops into soup and sauces for people in need. This partnership closes the loop in agricultural waste. Instead of destroying products or sending food waste to the garbage, farms produce more food that goes to people in need. In turn, the farms’ bottom lines increase, keeping them sustainable well into the future. Which is something that everybody – from farm to table – can celebrate. Via NPR

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Dairy farmers’ excess milk gets a second life feeding the hungry

Arctic shipping routes could threaten "unicorns of the sea"

July 3, 2018 by  
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Narwhals, or the “unicorns of the sea,” could be at risk from additional Arctic shipping routes as polar ice continues to recede. A peer-reviewed study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests as many as seven marine mammal species may face new threats and uncertain consequences from increased ship traffic. The Arctic Ocean is home to hundreds of animals, like narwhals, polar bears and whales. However, as the polar ice caps retreat, more shipping companies are taking advantage of open waters to reduce travel time. To determine how the increase of ships could affect marine mammals , the research team from University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Washington studied wildlife during the fall shipping season. The group looked at 80 different subpopulations among the seven species to determine if they were directly exposed to the ships and how much these ships could affect the wellbeing of the marine life. Related: The melting Arctic is already changing the ocean’s circulation During the study period, over half of the subpopulations were impacted by ships, with narwhals inheriting the highest amount of risk. In addition to an increased risk of injury or death from collisions,  toothed whales also face communication challenges because of their audio sensitivity. Like dolphins, the ocean unicorn “talks” with a language of buzzing, clicking and calling. While narwhals could have the most to lose, polar bears and seals have the least risk because of the time they spend on land. But researchers note their populations also come with high long-term uncertainty, and the team concluded more data is required to determine how shipping affects their livelihood. The news wasn’t entirely bad for wildlife populations. The scientists noted through additional data collection, shipping companies could plan for environmentally-sustainable transportation options. “Regions with geographic bottlenecks, such as the Bering Strait and eastern Canadian Arctic, were characterized by two to three times higher vulnerability than more remote regions,” the researchers wrote in their study abstract. “These pinch points are obligatory pathways for both vessels and migratory [ocean mammals], and so represent potentially high conflict areas but also opportunities for conservation-informed planning .” Arctic planning groups are aware of the wildlife threats and are working out plans to balance shipping with environmental concerns. The Arctic Council instituted regulations on transport companies in January 2017, with the goal of making shipping safer for both crews and marine mammals. + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Via Earther

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Arctic shipping routes could threaten "unicorns of the sea"

Solar-powered Swiss home uses prefabrication to minimize site impact

July 3, 2018 by  
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Ralph Germann architectes  has completed the House MW, a contemporary prefabricated home designed to overlook views of the Lac de Joux in Vallee de Joux, Switzerland. Built for a couple and their child on a budget, the dwelling was constructed using prefab systems to reduce waste, costs, and site impact. The home was built with a concrete “skeleton” clad in locally sourced spruce with fiberglass insulation. Created as a modern home with traditional farmhouse influences, the House MW is topped with a simple black corrugated iron roof and embraces the outdoors with a shaded terrace measuring 592 square feet. The timber facades and gables were constructed through off-site prefabrication in a carpenter’s workshop and were later transported by truck to the site. Locally sourced spruce boards clad the facade. “The ‘skeleton of the house was made of concrete (raft foundation, slab and staircase),” explains Ralph Germann architectes. “After the concrete masonry part was completed, the prefabricated wooden facades were attached against this interior concrete structure. By using this method we could build a house for a reasonable cost, with low ecological impact and at the same time we were able to reduce the construction time.” Related: A 1920 Swiss barn is reborn as a modern home for a family of five The interior of the home, which is nearly 2,500 square feet, is bright, airy and lined with birch plywood panels. Concrete partitions finished with plaster, painted with RAL 9010 mineral paint, round out the interior siding. The ground floor ceiling and staircase are made from unfinished concrete. All furniture designed by the architects was constructed from birch venee,r save for the solid larch indoor and outdoor dining tables. An air / water heat pump and photovoltaic solar panels power the home. + Ralph Germann architectes Images © Lionel Henriod

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First paper straw factory in decades to open as UK bans plastic

June 19, 2018 by  
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As the United Kingdom moves forward with its planned ban on single-use plastic products, the first paper straw factory in decades is opening in Wales to meet the consumer demand. Transcend Packaging, the owner and operator of the new plant, has already reached out to 1,361 McDonald’s restaurants throughout the U.K. , as well as other restaurants, to provide them with more environmentally-friendly straws. “We spotted a huge opportunity, and we went for it,” Transcend Packaging sales and marketing director Mark Varney told The Guardian . “When the BBC’s Blue Planet II was on the telly and the government started talking about the dangers of plastic straws, we saw a niche in the market.” Because of the change in British plastic policy, that niche may soon grow into a national industry. Even before the national plastic ban, companies were moving to use more eco-friendly products, though the acquisition of these products was not necessarily sustainable. “It is great that all these businesses are phasing out plastic straws, but the problem for them was where to get paper ones from,” Varney said. “Everyone is having to import them from China , and when you look at the carbon footprint of that it kind of defeats the exercise.” Thus, Transcend Packaging’s factory was born. Varney continued, “We set up this company to give the the customers what they actually want: biodegradable paper straws made in the U.K.” Related: India plans to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 While paper straws are marginally more expensive than plastic straws, there are numerous benefits not captured in the numbers. For example, “ McDonald’s , bless them, understood the massive difference to the environment,” said Varney, and embraced the paper straw for the company’s public image and the good of the environment. Via Gizmodo and The Guardian Image via Depositphotos

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First paper straw factory in decades to open as UK bans plastic

RepAir T-shirt cleans the air while you wear it

June 11, 2018 by  
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Italian fashion company Kloters has created a T-shirt that cleans the air through a specially designed insert capable of capturing and disintegrating pollutants and foul odors. Called RepAir, the shirt was designed to be both comfortable and environmentally friendly. “RepAir is born from the desire to go beyond the traditional concept of sustainable fashion,” said Kloters co-founders Federico Suria, Marco Lo Greco and Silvio Perucca in a press release. “[We] want to make fashion a vehicle to raise awareness and to think of new solutions to the pollution problem through nice, comfortable and, most of all, virtuous clothing .” The company is currently raising funds for the new product through a Kickstarter campaign . RepAir’s unique anti-pollutant features are made possible by the Breath , a patented absorbent fabric. “The company that produces it, Anemotech, has been very enthusiastic about the project and our collaboration started immediately,” De Greco said. “Our dream has become a reality.” The material is capable of absorbing pollutants that could contribute to health problems such as respiratory illness or cancer. The Breath has undergone extensive testing at the Università Politecnica delle Marche, which demonstrated the fabric’s ability to absorb up to 97 percent of volatile organic compounds, 92 percent of sulfur dioxide and 86 percent of nitrogen oxides. The Breath fabric insert is contained within a pocket on the T-shirt , which can be removed and replaced when necessary. Related: This startup is turning air pollution into art In addition to its pollutant fighting qualities, RepAir keeps  sustainability in mind throughout the production process. Produced in Italy, RepAir is manufactured with the support of suppliers that focus on making sure that no workers are exploited, which often occurs in the production of clothing for global consumption. The T-shirts are made from high-quality cotton and are designed to last, reducing the amount of waste created in its production. Kloters hopes that its shirts can start a conversation and a movement to improve air quality around the world. As its motto goes, “a single T-shirt may not save the world, but many can.” + Kloters Images via Kloters

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RepAir T-shirt cleans the air while you wear it

The net-zero Frick Environmental Center is officially one of the worlds greenest buildings

May 14, 2018 by  
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The Frick Environmental Center (FEC) in Pittsburgh just became the first municipally owned building in the U.S. to achieve Living Building certification — arguably the most rigorous proven performance green building standard in the world. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson , the FEC is among the world’s greenest certified buildings and it earned LEED Platinum certification last year. The 15,600-square-foot building produces as much energy and water as its consumes annually and it incorporates a wide array of other sustainable features including geothermal heating and cooling, locally sourced non-toxic building materials and daylight dimming controls and sensors. Conceived as the gateway to Frick Park, the city’s largest public park, the FEC serves as an experiential environmental education center. Locally and sustainably harvested black locust clads the building and — combined with the native landscaping on its nearly four-acre site — helps blend the project into its surroundings. The FEC comprises a public living room and gallery; K-12 classrooms for environmental education programs; and offices and facilities for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Education staff. Related: Man builds ultra-efficient green home as a love letter to the environment The FEC is one of only 21 buildings in the world to achieve Living Building certification and is the world’s first Living Building in the U.S. that’s municipally owned and open to the public. Designed as a “living laboratory,” the building makes its many sustainable technologies – such as its 650-kilowatt photovoltaic array and reclaimed water system – as visible as possible to the public as part of their commitment to hands-on environmental education. + Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Interior images by Alexander Denmarsh, outdoor walkway image by Elliott Cramer for Denmarsh Studios

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The net-zero Frick Environmental Center is officially one of the worlds greenest buildings

‘Game changing’ graphene-reinforced concrete is stronger and better for the planet

May 3, 2018 by  
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Add concrete to the list of things graphene can improve. Scientists at the University of Exeter ‘s Center for Graphene Science developed a new technique to incorporate graphene in concrete production with the help of nanoengineering technology — and the resulting material was not only over twice as strong as concretes we have today, but “drastically reduced the carbon footprint of conventional concrete production methods.” Is there anything graphene can’t do? It can boost both the strength and durability of concrete. The resulting University of Exeter composite material is four times as water resistant as existing concretes, and, according to professor Monica Craciun , “by including graphene we can reduce the amount of materials required to make concrete by around 50 percent — leading to a significant reduction of 446 kilograms per tonne of the carbon emissions .” Related: MIT just discovered a way to mass produce graphene in long rolls The research, published in late April in the journal Advanced Functional Materials , pioneers a novel, low cost technique that is, according to the university, compatible with requirements for modern, large-scale manufacturing. The composite material can be utilized right on building sites. Craciun described the new green concrete as an absolute game-changer. She said its strength, durability, and water resistance make it “uniquely suitable for construction in areas which require maintenance work and are difficult to be accessed.” Lead author Dimitar Dimov, a PhD student at the university, described the research as a first but crucial step “in the right direction to make a more sustainable construction industry for the future.” He said in the statement, “Finding greener ways to build is a crucial step forward in reducing carbon emissions around the world and so help protect our environment as much as possible.” + University of Exeter + Advanced Functional Materials Images via Depositphotos and Derek Torsani on Unsplash

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‘Game changing’ graphene-reinforced concrete is stronger and better for the planet

These colorful hexagonal wall tiles are made from sound-absorbing "wood wool"

April 29, 2018 by  
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These colorful hexagonal wall tiles by Form Us With Love strike a brilliant balance between sustainable materials, economy and functionality. The modular tiles are available in a variety of different colors and can be assembled in various patterns to create a gorgeous mural on your wall. The tiles are made from wood fibers mixed with cement and water, and they have sound-absorbing properties that can actually improve the acoustics of a room. Form Us With Love collaborates with different manufacturing companies to create everyday objects, furniture, and lighting products that challenge conventional design initiatives. For the production of these hexagons, they work with the only manufacturer of wood wool in Sweden – a 20-man traditional family business called Traullit . The tiles are made from wood slivers which are known primarily as excelsior or wood wool in North America. The material is mainly used for packaging, cushioning, insulation, and even stuffing teddy bears. The process of making wood wool cement is very simple: wood slivers are cut from local tree logs and then get mixed with some water and cement, which acts as a binder and provides strength. The mixture is then put into a mold and left to dry into shape. The result is a material that is environmentally friendly, moisture and sound absorbent, and fire and water resistant. + Form Us With Love

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These colorful hexagonal wall tiles are made from sound-absorbing "wood wool"

11 inspiring designs we loved at Milan Design Week 2018

April 26, 2018 by  
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Designers awed and inspired attendees at this year’s Milan Design Week with fresh takes on contemporary design. From unexpected uses for wood and recycled materials to advanced lighting technology , we spotted countless incredible projects throughout the event — read on for 11 of our favorite designs from Milan Design Week 2018. Sila lamp by Zsuzsanna Horvath Helsinki-based Hungarian architect Zsuzsanna Horvath developed the Sila lamp – an elegant lamp that emerges from a two-dimensional plane of laser-cut birch plywood. The lamp’s structure is made with thin, delicate slivers of plywood connected by a flexible OLED panel. With its soft light and delicate shape, this lamp is a perfect addition for quiet and cozy interiors. Bread chair by Mika Tsutai This Bread Chair by Japanese designer Mika Tsutai is definitely an object of good taste… and good humor. Inspired by the unpredictable shape of bread, Tsutai kneaded dough — real dough, made from flour — shaped it into a chair, and baked it. The baked piece was scanned, and a digital model was created. The designer used this model to carve the same shape from wood. The unique shape reflects the random swelling of bread after baking. Macaron seat by Kalo Kalo created the Macaron Seat by using locally-recycled bits of rubber. Each seat is crafted by pressing a mold onto a wooden frame. This seat catches the eye using juxtapositions: smooth wooden legs contrast with a textured seat and a shining brass element along the edges of the dark rubber. Halo lamp by Mandalaki Designed by the Milan-based Mandalaki office, the Halo lamp is a bold combination of art and technology. Unlike most lamps, Halo does not provide neutral white illumination. Instead, it dyes space with vivid, unexpected colors. The vivid colors are produced by analog optical decomposition instead of an RGB LED. Mandalaki developed a dichroic filter to divide the pure luminous flux, or the measure of perceived light, into a vast spectrum of colors. Sundial clock by YOY You don’t need sunlight to use this Sundial wall clock by Tokyo-based design studio YOY. Although at first sight it seems to be a real sundial, it is only an illusion. Part of the “Fictionality” collection, this clock has a regular bar as the minute hand and a “shadow” as the hour hand, which is imprinted on the clock’s face. Surprisingly, the entire clock rotates to show the correct time. Plug It by Studio Oberhauser Instead of discarding thousands of small wood scraps from the industrial production of furniture, Studio Oberhauser created Plug It to exemplify the beauty of recycling. The studio suggests that stacking the comb-shaped wood chips to craft pieces of furniture can be a fun and functional game for everyone. Sea of Plastic by EcoBirdy EcoBirdy’s main goal is to reduce the sea of plastic . To do this, the company crafted children’s furniture entirely from recycled plastic. Plus, each item can be easily recycled again. The Antwerp-based designers have also involved children in this socially- and environmentally-responsible act by designing a storybook and a school program that teaches children about sustainable living. D.01 bench by Davide Montanaro Wood appears to be a stiff and rigid material, but it can be made to bend with just the right touch. Dukta is a unique incision process that can make wood into a flexible, manageable material. Davide Montanaro used this process to design the plywood D.01 bench and ensured the piece had character with its smooth shape and distinct pattern. S-Lab clock by 4R 4R made the S-Lab clock using recycled plastic. The entire production process, from collection to melting and molding was completed in-house. The designers were able to control the color, pattern and texture of the clock. With this project, the team hopes to continue working and exploring with plastic in their designs. Woodencap by Rootpecker Rootpecker has made design history by creating the first wooden cap in the world. The hat is handmade in Germany and features a smooth, flexible wood surface and intricate stitching. The company aims to source only eco-friendly materials for their unique products. Paper and Light by Denis Guidone and Tomoko Fuse Designer Denis Guidone and origami artist Tomoko Fuse created Paper and Light to blend classic and contemporary techniques. This project includes a series of lamps made from folded washi, a traditional Japanese paper. The folded light installments illuminate the area and create playful shadows. + Milan Design Week Images via Maria Novozhilova for Inhabitat

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11 inspiring designs we loved at Milan Design Week 2018

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