Acustico Lighting founder and director Samantha McKenzie was researching the viability of using recycled tires in the design of her new collection when she came across Tire Stewardship Australia.
Primarily an interior designer, Samantha McKenzie formed Acustico Lighting in Melbourne to solve the problem of noisy spaces in office environments. After spending the first two years in research and development, she discovered that a human-centered design approach to acoustic lighting was the way to go.
Essentially, this meant a special type of light fixture that could absorb up to 30% of sound.
“I worked in commercial spaces and there seemed to be a sound issue and people were complaining about echoing from meeting rooms, noisy breakout spaces, or open-plan offices,” McKenzie said. “It was my intention from then on to get into some sort of fabrication that would deal with sound and noise in these spaces.
“I figured it was probably best to have a suspended solution, so the lighting made sense as it’s something that is often hanging from the ceiling and close to the source of the noise. I started creating a particular product line, which was acoustic lighting, and we were lucky enough to win a gold Good Design Award for this first product in 2019.”
More recently, with an influx of customers starting to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the founder of Acustico Lighting came across a new raw material that suited both residential and commercial settings – crumbs of recycled car tires.
Inspired by the brutalist architectural style that emerged in Europe after World War II, as well as the nature of design in historically austere periods, the concept of the Brutalis collection was conceived. After receiving a Creative Victoria 2021 Sustaining Creative Workers grant, the product development process began.
“I looked at an underlayment for some flooring when we were in the middle of a construction project, and thought recycled tires might be good,” McKenzie said. “Then I started researching how I could work with this material, and I came across Envirorubber.”
Envirorubber Solutions, a local specialist in prefabricated rubber products made from recycled tires, is focused on developing new applications to reuse discarded tires. This aligned not only with McKenzie’s new project, but also with Acustico Lighting’s underlying philosophy to ensure the sustainability of its products and processes.
“The first thing in everything we do is look back at materials and where they came from,” McKenzie said. “There are certain components in every design that can’t all be made in Australia – particularly the LED light strip which just isn’t made in Australia; therefore, there are elements that we cannot prevent ourselves from importing. But the very fact that these tires come from Australian trucks and cars was really important. Also, the fact that Envirorubber is very local to me, so there wasn’t a lot of mileage before they got out.
Another facet of Acustico Lighting’s goal to maintain a high level of sustainability in all its products involves recyclable solutions to reduce waste as much as possible.
“In our Musica line of products, we ask people to return the product at the end of its life cycle, and then with our other products, we crumble it up and use it as carpet padding,” McKenzie said. “And with the Brutalis product line, I will also ask customers to return them so that we can recycle all the components that we can.
“The beauty of using recycled car tires is that they’re also molded, so there’s no waste. We make them to order and it’s the same for all our products; so we don’t have huge backlogs and any waste in the other range is fully returned to the manufacturer and also scrapped.
While working with Envirorubber, McKenzie also discovered Tire Stewardship Australia, which promotes the development of viable end-of-life tire markets.
Lina Goodman, CEO of Tire Stewardship Australia, was enthusiastic about converting waste into a practical product.
“Tyre Stewardship Australia works together across the value chain to drive demand for tire-derived products, like Acustico Lighting,” said Goodman. “We do this not only by financing, but by promoting these innovative processes and technologies. We want to be the link between suppliers and innovators and enable industry sectors to deliver the best real-world solutions. »
McKenzie agreed that using Tire Stewardship Australia’s extensive network supported his business.
“They connected me with industry researchers and manufacturers in their network, including Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology associate professor Everson Kandare from the School of Engineering,” McKenzie said. “It helped allay some of my concerns about using recycled tire crumbs and the potential heat and safety issues associated with such manufacture.
“After making a few calls to them, it was a really nice collaboration at a time when we weren’t really collaborating a lot, being able to chat with people about something new and exciting.”
Design and manufacture
After conducting independent tests on the material, McKenzie found recycled tire crumbs to be an effective lighting product that absorbs sound. It is porous, yet soft, and has demonstrated good sound absorption in the mid-frequency range, otherwise known as “voice noise”.
Envirorubber was able to manufacture the Brutalis collection using a mold designed by Acustico Lighting.
“Before receiving the rubber shavings, the tires have yarn, cord fluff and reinforcements used to produce various grades of rubber shavings, polish and powder,” McKenzie said. “It is then processed to further remove impurities and is graded according to its quality. Envirorubber uses a variety of mesh and rubber crumbs, depending on the application of their finished product. In this case, a UV-resistant binder was used to bind the product in a mold, and that’s how I use it.
McKenzie thinks its use of recycled car tires as a material for lighting applications is quite unique – and it has been well received by other industry professionals.
“We have just exhibited the collection at a major design exhibition in Melbourne and the feedback has been overwhelming,” she said. “It really confirmed that architects and designers are looking for ways to specify upcycled and upcycled products in their designs, which I think is a major selling point.”
Acustico Lighting’s Brutalis Collection has now been nominated for the Victorian Premier’s Design Award in the Product Design category.
“There has been such a diverse range of products nominated for this award, that I’m extremely excited to go this far,” McKenzie said. “It’s a huge honor to even be nominated by a high-caliber design jury that lives and breathes good design.”
The combination of authentic design and Australian manufacturing is of the utmost importance to McKenzie, which is why it has worked with Envirorubber and Tire Stewardship Australia with such success.
“Our copyright laws in Australia do not yet recognize furniture and lighting design and unfortunately this has facilitated a ‘replica’ industry which devalues our whole industry,” she said . “It’s really a numbers game – we need to change our behavior around buying Australian design. We have the talent and the manufacturing capabilities, but to bring our prices down we need scale, which doesn’t can only happen when people stop buying disposable design.
Tire Stewardship Australia’s mission is to collaboratively ensure the sustainable management, recycling and productive use of end-of-life tires.
Tire Stewardship Australia’s work helps turn waste into a useful product, creating new job opportunities and new markets for end-of-life tyres.
To visit www.tyrestewardship.org.au/innovation/source-recycled-tyre-products to discover more products that can be made from recycled tires.