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Ella Einhell: "Happy beef is always blue"

Ella Einhell: "Happy beef is always blue"
Photo: © William Veder

Ella Einhell turns bones into glass, drawing on an old tradition. She uses waste from the meat industry to give her glass products a new value. We spoke to her about what this has to do with the circular economy and how she came up with the idea of working with bone waste in the first place.
 

INTERVIEW  Boris Messing    

 

CCB Magazine: Hello Ella. You make glass from bone. How did you come up with that?  

Ella Einhell: I started repurposing things as a child. For example, making tea light holders out of coffee bags or alarm systems out of beads. When I went to Berlin after leaving school to study product design at the Weißensee School of Art, I started experimenting with recycled plastic. At some point, I asked myself to what extent biological materials could also be recycled and came across the food industry and bone waste from slaughterhouses.

CCB Magazine:You'll have to explain that in more detail. How did you come up with bones of all things?

Ella Einhell:The meat industry is one of the largest industries in the food sector and produces the most waste. Depending on the animal, slaughter waste accounts for 35 to 48 percent. This includes eyes, blood, organs, hair and bones. Bones are also used to make glue or gelatine, for example. But this is only done by large producers such as Tönnies, for whom the cost of recycling the meatless parts of an animal is financially worthwhile. It's not worth it for smaller abattoirs. My aim was to support organic farmers against factory farming and to create a circular product. As the cosmetics and food industries are subject to strict regulations, I wanted to use the bones from small organic slaughterhouses to recycle them for glass and porcelain production.

CCB Magazine:How exactly does it work? How does bone become glass?

Ella Einhell:Opal glass production from bone ash is an ancient craft. I mix the ash with glass grinding sludge, i.e. glass residue from sanded windows. Nothing is lost in terms of quality. The bone ash also makes the glass more stable and gives it a milky touch. The bone china that I have been researching and whose production I want to include in addition to bone glass has also been known for centuries. Porcelain consists roughly of kaolin, feldspar and quartz. However, bone china contains fifty percent bone ash. This means that fifty percent of the resources mentioned could be replaced by bone ash. There is currently no shortage of these resources, but this could be the case in the next fifty to one hundred years.



Above and below: Bone glass containers, for example for water or potato chips. Center: Samples made from bone glass. Photos: Bernado Aviles-Busch

CCB Magazine:So the main advantage of your manufacturing process is that it saves resources?

Ella Einhell:Exactly. My bone glass products simply replace newly produced glass. This means I save resources, but also energy, because less heat is required to recycle glass than to produce new glass.

CCB Magazine:Your concept is based on the recyclability of products. One aspect that plays a role in terms of sustainability is avoiding meat as much as possible - the production of meat is even considered one of the main emitters of CO2. Doesn't your project make use of what should basically be rejected?

Ella Einhell:Absolutely! And it is precisely this debate that is an important part of my project. On the one hand, I want to draw attention to the issue with my objects, which look very different depending on the animal species and how they are kept. The fact is that an incredible amount of meat is still eaten in Germany and all over the world. And as long as this is the case, there is also slaughter waste - up to 800,000 tons a year in Germany alone. Almost half of an animal is wasted unnecessarily instead of being used. I have decided to use these leftovers and give value to what are considered disgusting remains. I work exclusively with small-scale organic farmers to support them in their fight against industrial factory farming.

There are up to 800,000 tons of slaughterhouse waste every year in Germany alone. Almost half of an animal is wasted unnecessarily instead of being used. I have decided to use these leftovers and give value to what are considered disgusting remains. I work exclusively with small organic farmers to support them in their fight against industrial factory farming

CCB Magazine:What do you do with your bone glass? What is it used for?

Ella Einhell:It can be used in many different ways. On the one hand, I sell glass objects such as glasses or vases via my online shop, but we also create art objects and samples made of glass for exhibitions to present our products. A big focus is on façade construction. We work with a façade company from Saxony-Anhalt that specializes in façades made from recycled glass and supports us in the development process. I also take care of all the regulations that have to be met in order to be able to offer glass façades commercially.

CCB Magazine:Where do you get your bones from? Does the type of bone make a difference in glass production?

Ella Einhell:At the moment I work exclusively with the Gut Kerkow meat factory in the Uckermark. The reason for this is that the color of the bone-in glass varies greatly depending on the animal husbandry, food or animal species. Depending on the type of bone, the glass can have a bluish, greenish or pinkish tinge. It is therefore important to use the same type of bone for a product in order to obtain a reliable result. Happy beef, for example, is always blue. A deer is always brown. In addition to Gut Kerkow, I am also occasionally supplied by crematoriums, which are usually animals that have been run over by cars. You can basically process any type of bone.



Bone glass objects and glass firing. Photos: Bernado Aviles-Busch

CCB Magazine:You only develop the design of the glass objects yourself, but have them produced by others. How exactly does that work?

Ella Einhell:It works like a relay race. The production goes through a chain of producers. For example: first I get bones from Gut Kerkow, which are processed into bone ash in the crematorium; then the ash is sent to a producer who turns it into glass granulate; at the same time, the glass grinding sludge arrives from the window companies I work with; and finally the glassmaker turns it into the desired glass object according to my design. I coordinate the whole process. If I were to max it out, I could get 200,000 tons of bone a year. And we have almost 40,000 tons of glass grinding sludge. So I would have enough to produce on a large scale.

CCB Magazine:Your project has been running since 2020. How have you financed it so far?

Ella Einhell:After graduating, I was able to do my research on bone glass with the help of a DesignFarmBerlin scholarship and I also have an Elsa Neumann scholarship until the end of this year. But we also earn money through exhibitions and online sales. I'm also planning to do a doctorate so that I can continue my materials research with bone. There is still a lot to find out.

CCB Magazine:Ella, in conclusion: What else do you want to achieve?

Ella Einhell:In the beginning, I did everything on my own, but now we have grown to three or four employees. The aim of our research with bones is to get our products ready for the market. We want to enter into even more collaborations. My bone glass objects are already being sold in various stores, for example in Paris. And I hope that the collaboration with the façade company will soon bear fruit.

Category: Innovation & Vision

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