Finalist 2023

A Speculative Circular Economy Innovation

Dawei Cao / RMIT University

Transforming coconut waste into sustainable products - pioneering a circular economy system for a greener future.

My entry showcases a groundbreaking speculative circular economy system focused on transforming coconut waste into sustainable and customisable products. Through innovative processes, I convert coconut waste into reusable materials, which are then used to create aesthetically appealing products. This circular approach reduces waste and offers an eco-friendly solution for coconut-based businesses. The project aims to inspire other businesses to adopt similar sustainable practices while contributing to a greener future. By utilising scientific principles and creativity, we've designed a system that benefits the environment, society, and the economy, making a tangible impact on the world.

Design Brief:

The design aimed to address the increasing issue of coconut waste generated by LELENÜT, a small-scale business specialising in coconut-themed drinks. The problem was to develop a sustainable circular economy system for a speculative flagship store, focusing on three key objectives: 1) Converting coconut waste into reusable materials, 2) Transforming these materials into aesthetic, sustainable, and customisable products, and 3) Integrating the system as a decorative element within the speculative flagship store.

The intended outcome was to create an innovative solution that not only reduces waste but also transforms it into valuable resources. By successfully producing 3D printing filament from coconut waste and designing customisable products like cups, the project demonstrated the potential for a sustainable circular economy system in the food and beverage industry. The ultimate goal was to inspire similar businesses to adopt similar practices, contributing to a larger societal shift towards sustainable practices and a greener future.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

The design process commenced with extensive research and information gathering about the current flow of coconuts in LELENÜT's operations. This helped identify areas for improvement and the basis for developing a feasible circular flow concept, aligning with the project's design brief.

Next, the project focused on the crucial step of converting coconut waste into reusable materials. Multiple experiments and tests were conducted to dehydrate the waste, leading to the creation of fine coconut waste powder. Through various treatments like washing, drying, oven-dehydrating, smashing, grinding, and sifting, the project successfully produced 3D printing filament using 9.1% coconut waste mixed with PLA, a 100% biodegradable material. This innovative approach showcased the project's commitment to sustainability and exceeded the design brief's expectations by transforming waste into a valuable resource.

With the filament in hand, I proceeded to create customisable products. Cups were chosen as the target object, and several iterations of drawings and CAD modelling were developed. The final design featured a set of four cups, each inspired by one of four basic shapes. The team used the coconut filament to 3D print the cups, achieving excellent outcomes that surpassed initial expectations.

For the final step, I developed a 3D model of a production line for the speculative flagship store. This theoretical mass-manufacturing process showcased how the circular economy system could be integrated into the store's operations, thereby meeting the design brief's emphasis on practical implementation.

Throughout the design process, the project demonstrated professionalism, attention to detail, and a continuous improvement mindset. By meeting and exceeding the design brief's objectives, the coconut waste circular economy system showcased an innovative, sustainable, and practical solution that can inspire businesses to adopt similar circular economy practices.

Design Excellence

The design's functionality lies in its ability to convert coconut waste into reusable materials and create customisable, aesthetically pleasing products like 3D-printed cups. The system's accessibility ensures ease of implementation for businesses seeking to adopt circular economy practices.

Moreover, the project prioritises safety throughout the design process, ensuring that the waste treatment and filament production procedures are carried out with precision and adherence to safety protocols. The use of 100% biodegradable materials demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, contributing to environmental protection.

The user experience has been thoughtfully factored into the final design solution. The customisable cups offer users a delightful and personal touch, making them feel more connected to the products. Additionally, the focus on 3D printing and sustainable materials aligns with the growing consumer demand for eco-friendly and innovative solutions. This holistic, high-quality user experience elevates the project beyond just a waste management system, making it a thoughtful, enjoyable, and sustainable journey for both the business and the end-users.

As a pioneering circular economy system in the food and beverage industry, this project sets a new benchmark for design excellence not only in Victoria but also for Australia and internationally. Its innovative approach to converting bio-waste into value-added products showcases the potential for circular economy practices to create positive impacts on both businesses and the environment.

With its combination of functionality, aesthetics, sustainability, and user-centric design, this project stands as a testament to the power of good design. Its potential to inspire other businesses, both within Victoria and beyond, to embrace circular economy practices and invest in professional design makes it a trailblazer in design excellence on an international scale. The project's commitment to making a positive difference in the world sets a new standard for design excellence that will undoubtedly create great impact in the industry and beyond.

Design Innovation

The coconut waste circular economy system project stands as a testament to design innovation, addressing the problem of coconut waste in a truly imaginative and groundbreaking manner. By converting coconut waste into reusable materials and creating customisable 3D-printed cups, the project not only tackles waste management but also offers a unique solution to promote sustainability and circularity.

One of the project's most innovative aspects lies in its world-first creation of 3D printing filament from freshly discarded coconut waste. Through a series of experiments and tests, the designer successfully developed a DIY 3D printing filament made from 9.1% coconut waste PLA, a 100% biodegradable material by using household equipment. This groundbreaking feature not only reduces the environmental impact of coconut waste but also opens up new possibilities for sustainable 3D printing in various applications.

Moreover, the design's user-centered approach ensures that it caters to individual needs and preferences. The customisable cups, inspired by four basic shapes, provide a personalised touch to the end-users, offering them a delightful and connected experience with the brand. The project creatively blends aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability to address users' desires for eco-friendly and innovative products, setting a new standard for user-centered design solutions.

The design considers the entire journey of coconuts, from waste generation to filament production and cup customisation. By optimising each step of the process, the project maximises the potential of circular economy practices in the food and beverage industry. Its innovative and original approach to transforming waste into valuable products challenges traditional waste management practices and sets a new benchmark for sustainable design solutions.

The project's ability to transform a waste material into a valuable resource and its pioneering use of 3D printing filament from coconut waste showcases a level of innovation and creativity rarely seen in waste management and circular economy projects.

Design Impact

By addressing the challenges of waste management, the project demonstrates its potential to revolutionise the way businesses approach sustainability in the food and beverage industry.

Socially, the project inspires businesses and individuals to adopt circular economy practices, fostering environmental consciousness and responsible waste management. By promoting the concept of upcycling coconut waste into reusable materials and aesthetically pleasing products, it encourages other enterprises to embrace similar initiatives, contributing to a larger societal shift towards sustainable practices.

Environmentally, the project adheres to Circular Economy principles, minimising waste and utilising 100% biodegradable materials, thus preserving natural resources and reducing the ecological footprint. By designing out waste and optimising material usage, the project contributes to resource regeneration and environmental preservation.

Commercially, the project showcases the economic viability of circular economy systems, demonstrating that sustainable practices can align with profitability. The implementation of this circular system reduces production costs by repurposing waste and increases the potential for new revenue streams from customisable, eco-friendly products.

A professional design process ensures user-centric products that meet consumer needs and preferences, enhancing brand reputation. The customisable cups, inspired by four basic shapes, create a delightful and personal user experience. This fosters brand loyalty and repeat business.

The project serving as a model for circular economy practices globally. As a pioneering initiative in the food and beverage industry, it sets a new benchmark for design excellence, showcasing how innovative design solutions can drive positive environmental and social change.

Overall, the coconut waste circular economy system project not only contributes to Victoria's design and creative culture but also elevates the importance of professional design in creating sustainable and impactful solutions. Through its social, environmental, and commercial benefits, it stands as an exemplar of how design thinking can shape a more sustainable and prosperous future for both businesses and the environment.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

This project exemplifies excellence in circular design and sustainable design principles, making it a strong contender for recognition in the Victorian Premier's Design Awards. By focusing on transforming coconut waste into reusable materials and customisable products, the project embraces the concept of circularity, where waste is minimised, and resources are regenerated.

Circular design is integrated into every aspect of the project, starting with the collection and treatment of coconut waste to produce reusable materials. The project utilises a closed-loop system, converting waste into valuable resources instead of letting it become a burden on the environment. By adopting a circular approach, the project aligns with the Circular Economy principles of designing out waste and minimising materials.

Moreover, the project prioritises sustainability through its use of 100% biodegradable materials for 3D printing filament and the creation of customisable cups. By opting for environmentally friendly materials, the project ensures a positive end-of-life impact, as the products can be easily decomposed without harming the environment.

Additionally, the project promotes sustainability in the food and beverage industry by demonstrating how small-scale businesses like LELENÜT can adopt circular economy practices to reduce their environmental footprint. This showcases the positive impact of design in helping businesses transition to a circular economy, where environmental impact is minimised during the design phase.

The coconut waste circular economy system project sets an example of how design can play a pivotal role in creating sustainable solutions for businesses and society as a whole. Its circular design principles and sustainable practices align with the goals of the Victorian Premier's Design Awards, recognising the significance of design in driving positive environmental and societal outcomes. By honouring this project, the Awards can inspire other enterprises to adopt circular and sustainable design practices, ultimately contributing to a more sustainable and regenerative future.

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