Waste Underestimated


an interview with young furniture designer Tom De Koninck

We humbly believe that one of the most inspiring aspects of young generations is their genuine enthusiasm, the fire they carry within themselves that will ignite the fuse of change for a new world tomorrow. It's a world that evolves from confronting discomfort about the present world. One of these enthusiastic change-makers is Tom De Koninck, Furniture designer and Engineer Architect. It’s this blend of insight and craftsmanship from which Tom’s first furniture project, ‘Rover’, emerged.
“After completing my studies as an Engineer Architect, I felt a strong urge to create something tangible with my hands, rather than delving into more theory. I enrolled in Furniture Design at VOMO in Mechelen, where they offer their students the opportunity to dedicate an entire year to a single project. I was determined to focus on ecological sustainability," Tom begins. “I’ve always been deeply concerned by the wastefulness of our society and wanted to explore methods to repurpose waste streams into functional creations."
Tom is a young man with bright ambitions, but he’s also practical and proactive. “I approached my research and inquiries in a hands-on manner. I began by taking an aerial photo of my hometown, Aalst, to identify its companies and industries and to locate potential sources of useful waste streams," Tom explains. "Once I had identified these companies, I reached out to them directly, asking for permission to inspect the waste in their containers firsthand. This process enabled me to create an inventory, essentially forming a 'waste library': What types of waste were available? How much of it was there? And what was being done with this waste?"
Waste Underestimated – is how I’d describe my work and research in a nutshell
“I love experimenting and went on a quest to find the specific properties of the waste materials I had collected," Tom explains. "Many waste streams are often underestimated, with some materials wrongly labeled as 'waste' when they still hold potential value," he adds. “I challenged myself to figure out what I could do with them, and envision how they could be repurposed into functional furniture pieces. With what I learned from this, I began the design process, engaging in extensive experimentation until I eventually crafted my first furniture collection named ‘Rover’. Each piece is entirely unique, crafted from a variety of waste materials, each with its own distinctive look and narrative, reflecting the story of the company its sourced from. Additionally, every furniture piece features a QR code, providing insight into the material’s source and how the waste stream was created”. 
Repurposing waste streams serves as my medium for addressing what I believe is a fundamental issue. I feel like many of our world problems relate to our lack of sustainable thinking, producing and consuming
“I believe that many of the fears, problems and disasters plaguing our world today stem from our disconnect with ecological principles. My vision didn't arise from a single source but rather from different articles, images and news reports that highlight our world problems. What I really want to do is invest in is sustainability transition. How can I have a positive impact and enable meaningful change? How can I challenge conventional perspectives and reimagine solutions? More specifically: how can I use a waste stream from overlooked industry and repurpose them for entirely different sectors? Often, waste repurposing initiatives remain confined within the same industry, but I'm motivated to bridge these gaps”. Beautiful ambitions from a young designer. 
Tom continues his research for and expansion of Rover. He’s exploring ways to scale up his Rover-method and designs and considering whether automation could aid in industrializing the method.
I'd love to be able to eliminate waste streams altogether. A defining characteristic of any waste stream is its continuous production. Companies continue to produce, often at high speed, resulting in an ongoing generation of waste
We asked Tom about sustainability and the engagement of his age group. “Within my generation, I see a lot of people with the same commitment to sustainability as I have, but maybe this gives at bit of distorted image because most of my friend also studied architecture or design like I have. There’s definitely a part of my generation that’s not thinking about sustainability, but once you engaged in conversation, they’re definitely open to thinking and talking about it”. 
I don’t think that there are many people who are against more sustainability, but I think changing habits is hard
We asked Tom about what he thinks are trending themes in his field and among his peers. “When I look at my what other students in my furniture design studies were working on, I noticed that a lot of people were paying a great deal of attention to craftsmanship. Turning against overproduction, producing things that get lost along the way”, Tom says. 
He continues: “on a social level I notice a special attention and dedication to making furniture that is accessible to everybody or adapted to special needs and abilities. Many projects also have a social orientation”. 
If you stay stuck in pure craftsmanship and turn against new techniques, you lag behind. I’m 100% convinced that you can unite crafts and technology
“I’m currently researching how I can use more contemporary tools and approaches to develop and reinforce the design method I used for Rover. I’ve been experimenting with AI and different 3D printing and welding techniques; these also have their characteristic value within contemporary craftsmanship”. 
“There’s also a lot of value in looking at techniques used in other – even unrelated – industries and ask the question: how could I apply these approaches to furniture design and architecture?”, Tom adds. 
Industries today are forced to start thinking about sustainability transition. Everything we do, we have to question
When we asked Tom about what he thinks the role of the industry in tomorrow’s world will be, he’s decisive: “The industry can no longer avoid the question of what can be done with their waste stream. They have to ask themselves: how could things work differently, be more sustainable? How can we make pure, sustainable products? They need to apply long-term thinking, produce something that is 100% recyclable, not use recycled materials that, once used, cannot be recycled again, because this is what happens in a lot of cases today, the cycle closes and stops very quickly”. 
As a student, it’s easy to point the finger and say ‘this should be done differently and needs to go this or that way’, but we don’t own companies with employees to pay, families to support, or machines that need to keep running
When we asked Tom about what young people can learn from the industries, he highlighted the immense source of experience they represent. “When it comes to experience, we can learn a great deal from the industries”, Tom says. “They continuously investigate possible innovations and techniques. I think this research can be approached from different angles: on the one hand, through young people with fresh outlooks, unstained by the sadness of certain life and work experiences and realities; on the other, by companies and industries that have a more realistic view, shaped by years of work and experience and a sober outlook”.  
As for Tom’s future, “I’m not yet sure exactly what I want to do, but one thing I’m certain of is my commitment to sustainability. I want to make a difference when it comes to sustainability”, Tom tells us. We are confident he will succeed and look forward to being inspired by more of his experiments, methods and creations. 
Thank you, dear Tom.