Adhi Nugraha is a man of action. When he sniffed something smelly and unhealthy, he looked for a solution. Fast forward to today, a new product collection is born unlike any other. It is made from cow dung!
It started in 2021 when Adhi couldn’t stand the nuisance caused by cow dung throughout his town. It originated from the farms in Lembang, a highland area in West Java, where Adhi has resided since 2012. It wasn’t just the smell; it also polluted the river and the soil because there was no system or infrastructure for waste management. He turned this problem into research at Bandung Institute of Technology where he works as a lecturer at Product Design Study Program and the head of Research Center for Cultural and Environmental Products.
Cow dung has been used before, for fertiliser and bricks, for example. The Sasak people in Lombok mix it with clay to use on the floors of their traditional houses for warmth and to repel mosquitos. Adhi went a step further by using the material to create functional products with aesthetic designs for daily use.
The production process is quite involved, as Adhi summarised: “First, we gather the dung from the farms and bring it to the laboratory. We clean it with water on a sieve and we’ll get residue that looks like clumps of grass. Then we dry it with a machine, which results in powdery form in greenish brown colour. Then we mix it with an adhesive made of calcium carbonate and polyvinyl acetate or wood glue to make it compact. After making a mould with a 3D printer, we put the pulp in, dry it manually or with a dryer for 7-10 hours, and voila! Depending on the design, (for example a loudspeaker) we might need to join a few shapes using the damp pulp and assemble it with other parts. The last step is to smooth the surface with sandpaper and weatherproof it with a coating.” Are you wondering if the products smell? They don’t.
Prototypes were produced and exhibited at Indonesian Contemporary Art and Design (ICAD) in Jakarta and EMERGE @ FIND Design Fair Asia in Singapore earlier this year. He received many offers from other countries such as Singapore, Australia, India and US. “People responded faster than I thought. I am interested in serving the international market but I’m not actively looking for international buyers because the idea was to penetrate the domestic market first, since it is really about sustainability,” Adhi said. His goal is to put the products out to market providing an economic return to the farm owners while solving the waste problem.
Environmental and social sustainability issues are gaining in popularity. More people are aware of the importance of supporting responsible and ethical products. Adhi thinks this will only increase in the future. “It’s debatable, but I think natural materials combined with industrial materials will become preferrable. Natural fibres will be used more in contemporary designs, using sophisticated technology. And I believe that in 5-10 years the trend will move towards designs with renewable energy, like electric or solar powered vehicles,” he explained.
Adhi also believes that designers should prioritise designing for quality instead of quantity. Products with higher quality are more expensive but they tend to last longer. “I’m not anti-trend, but I think we should prevent piling more waste. It’s significant to design something that has impact to the people and empowers them in the process,” he said. Let’s hope that his forecast comes true and that we see cow dung products flourish in the near future.