Seen and unseen - Designed to degrade

28 February 2024

Not to be confused with bioplastics, plastics made from renewable biomass resources such as sugarcane or corn, biodegradable plastics are made from materials that have chemicals added that cause the plastic to break down quickly when exposed to air and sunlight, heat or moisture, triggering microorganisms to become active.

There is a train of thought that labelling plastics as biodegradable encourages people to think of plastics as dispensable rather than a resource to be valued. However, the issue of plastic pollution is now so problematic that manufacturers are making great efforts to develop materials that have much less impact on the environment at the end of life of its useful life.

As part of MoDiP’s current exhibition, Seen and Unseen, we are showing one of our recent acquisitions, the Componibili Bio.  This design classic was originally created by Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell in 1967.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri posing in front of a window displaying the Componibilli.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri outside MOMA, New York.

Picture credit Kartell

Ahead of its time, Componibili was a multi-functional, modular and stackable piece of furniture, that was the first example of the use of ABS for mass production of furniture. Its material makeover, in the form of the Componibili Bio, is a timely reflection of the concern for our environment and the impact of material choices.  

Componibili can be found in the collections of MOMA, New York, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and was the subject of an exhibition, A Tribute to Componibili, at the Design Museum, Brussels, in collaboration with Kartell Museo (Milan), to celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2017. Both the ABS and bio versions are also part of the MoDiP collection.

Componibili Bio - A modular and stackable piece of furniture made from biodegradable biomaterial.

Componibili bio

Picture credit MoDiP

Componibili Bio is made from a fully biodegradable biomaterial from renewable sources.  Derived from agricultural plant waste that cannot be used to produce food for humans or animals, this material has been created by the addition of microorganisms to produce a biomass similar to plastics, a material which Kartell was the first to experiment with in the injection moulding process. It is certified by international bodies to have exclusive properties of biodegradability in water and soil. Developed together with Bio-on, an Italian manufacturer of plant-derived bioplastics, Componibili Bio is available in four pastel colours made with water-based dyes. At the end of its useful life the Componibili Bio should be industrially composted.


Pam Langdown

MoDiP Documentation Officer