Bon Eco Design
Art and design company Bon Eco Design was founded in 2005 by designers Hans Honegger and Carolyn Butts. The name Bon Eco means “good ecology”, and respect for the environment is the foundation of the Bon Eco team’s work. In their own words, Bon Eco’s philosophy “encourages fabricating practices that include the reduction and reuse of non-recyclable materials”
In 1989 Bon Eco’s work with tyres began in 1989 as a reaction to Canada’s infamous Hagersville tyre fire. The event provoked a reaction in Butts. She explains that seeing distressing images of uncontrollable black smoke filling the air while 14 million tyres burned for 17 days motivated her desire to address the waste problem. As it happens, the fire occurred adjacent to the Six Nations Reserve, a significant First Nations confederacy. The poisoning of land, water and air only added insult to injury in connection with the worsening conditions on this area of Native land. The problem of tyre waste thus became Bon Eco’s inspiration for design using waste products, and today the company has progressed to repurposing other waste materials in order to demonstrate that waste has value.
“Around the time of fire, I had purchased a used car and discovered the tyres needed changing. After getting new ones, I found the old ones in the back of my car and [felt compelled] to research the properties of the rubber material to see what [I could design using] this waste product,” says Butts.
Nowadays, Bon Eco Design sources specific tyres from repair garages and landfills. Since used tyres come dirty and heavy, they first need to be cut into pieces and cleaned before they can become art and design pieces. Also, as Butts discovered early on, many tyres are embedded with steel belts, a weave of very strong spring steel threads behind the tread.
“At first, I tried to cut across these threads with a jigsaw, which [left me with] a hideous experience of smoking rubber! A local repair garage introduced me to bias ply tyres. They don’t have steel belts, but use woven nylon [instead]. They’re much easier to cut apart with a utility knife. Now I cut all my tyres with a blade[, which] prevents [the] release of caustic smoke into the air,” Butts explains.
The work of cutting tyres into pieces is mostly done by hand, and Butts explains that she tries to use as few energy inputs as possible in this process. Bon Eco spent their early years working with tyres experimenting with paints and stains that stick to rubber. Butts explains that the paint coating serves two purposes: the first is to encase the item to reduce the rubber’s odour, the second is to make the rubber resemble leather, wood or ceramics.
“We try to use as much recycled material as possible in our designs, such as other car parts, used mirrors and window frames. Paint and other hardware, such as wire, screws and bolts, are purchased new,” Butts relates.
Bon Eco’s designs often elicit surprise; people simply find it difficult to believe that they are made from used tyres. Butts explains that while tyres’ aesthetic is new and their organic texture poses a challenge for some, Bon Eco believes that their designs are a foregleam of our future, when fabricating with waste products will become more commonplace.
“It’s a human imperative that we close the manufacturing loops on extraction to dumping. They’re an existential threat and the design challenge of our time. Achieving this aim involves taking a more sustainable approach instead of] designing with new, raw materials; producing fewer, more necessary products; and designing for the environment instead of for profit. Clean air, water and land depend on it,” says Butts with conviction.