A biodegradable clay material made of tea waste

As part of her thesis project at Tongji University, Chinese designer Jiwei Zhou developed a pliable, clay-like material made from tea-waste using a biodegradable binding agent.

In Zhou’s hometown Sichuan, China, drinking tea is an important part of everyday life. However, tea production generates large amounts of waste due to low quality and processed residues from factories. Tea harvested in summer and autumn has a less pleasant taste and can therefore only sell for a low price. Therefore, the leaves are often left to rot in the soil. Around 6 million tons of tea leaves are wasted each year.

In collaboration with Yibin University and their tea farm, Zhou developed a pliable, clay-like material using an adhesive made from starch. Before dehydration, the material has clay-like properties, suitable for moulding and shaping. Once dried, the clay board has a matte and porous surface, emitting tea aroma. The board can be CNC milled, sanded, or painted.

After use, the material biodegrades in 3 to 4 weeks.

Using the material, Zhou developed two products. The first is an aroma light, which makes use of the material’s tea aroma. The scent is activated by heat, emitted by a LED light underneath. When the natural scent has evaporated after a few months, users can add other aromas to the surface. Additionally, Zhou designed disposable tea cups fro drinking different tea. The plasticity of the material makes the shape of traditional Chinese tea cups possible in disposable tea cup design.

Photos: Jiwei Zhou