A balancing act with PET bottles and light

If it wasn’t for her stubbornness the circus themed lamp TROLLBO might not be made out of recycled PET bottles. It was a balancing act with many trials and errors. We talked to Thea Svensson about the hoops they had to jump through.

She knew from the start that this was not going to be an easy task. Never before had the IKEA team succeeded in producing a children’s lighting product made out of recycled plastics. Thea had never before been responsible for the technical team and technical design of a product, but that did not stop her. She wanted to make the big top themed pendant lamp out of recycled PET bottles.

“We knew it was going to be tricky. I also knew that if we succeeded with TROLLBO, it would be our first children’s lamp made out of recycled PET bottles. I am quite stubborn, and I wanted to show everyone that this is possible,” says Thea Svensson, Product Development Engineer at IKEA.

In order to prolong the life of products and materials IKEA works with circular design principles. That means to design for a long life, use renewable or recycled material, minimize waste during production, and make the product recyclable. For TROLLBO the team chose to try recycled plastic. But making a lampshade out of recycled materials is not as easy as it sounds – it is a challenge to make recycled plastic translucent.

One of their suppliers had a tool they wanted to try, and the trial and error began. They started making samples out of both recycled polypropylene and different mixes of recycled PET bottles.

“We finally decided to work with recycled PET. The process of collecting and recycling PET bottles is well regulated and safe to use. The PET bottles we decided to use for the TROLLBO lamp come from Sweden and Italy,” says Thea.

They wanted the lamp to have a soft vintage green colour. To come up with the perfect opacity, Thea together with her team tested different grades of the PET bottles. The grade indicates how transparent the plastic of the collected PET bottles are. A higher grade is more expensive. The lower and less costly grade is darker, but too low grade would not let the light through.

“We finally picked a quite clear grading, more towards blue and grey than brown. Then we added 0,6 percent liquid green colour to achieve the tone we wanted without blocking too much light. We also tried different sizes of the granulates since that affects the mixture of the material.”

They also wanted to reduce waste even more during production. Some plastic lampshades are produced by punching the shape out of a plastic sheet and discarding the rest. Instead, Thea and her team injected soft plastic into moulds, which let them use more of the material. They came up with a design with six parts you put together — a design that also made it possible to ship the lamp in a flat pack.

“The designer was very satisfied with the six-part construction. Put together, the edges look like the corners of a circus tent.”

The lamp comes with decorations – a flag and colourful balls – that can be attached to complement the circus theme.

What happens to TROLLBO after the kids grow out of the circus?

“You can remove the decorations, and we have also picked a vintage green colour that works in many other rooms too. Hopefully, this lamp will live a long life in many people’s homes. When the day comes when you want to recycle TROLLBO, you separate the plastic parts from the electrical components and recycle.”

What have you learned from TROLLBO that IKEA can use for future products?

“The most important thing I have learned is to be stubborn and never give up. It is also easier to succeed if you know from the start that you are going to use recycled plastic because you have to be more flexible in the design process. I also learned that when working with recycled PET there are so many parameters – the mix of colours in the batch and the size of granulates.

Will you have a TROLLBO in your home?

“Of course! We recently bought a house, and there are several rooms where I can hang my TROLLBO,” says Thea.

TROLLBO will be in stores April 2019.