Bloom is a small-scale countertop composter that was created by a cross-disciplinary team of University of Cincinnati design students. We were challenged to make 15 composters in a small batch production to sell at an end of the semester community pop-up shop. Bloom introduces the process of making compost and compost tea in both a simple and beautiful manner. The vessel and instructional components help break down the nuances of composting for users. This is done by encouraging the use of coffee grounds as the 'green materials' while dirt and coffee filters as the 'brown'. Using Bloom's process, consumers are provided the opportunity to develop a sustainable habit and learn the basics of composting which can be implemented on a larger scale.
Initial Research + Opportunity Discovery
We found through research that environmentalism and sustainability efforts are trending among the rising populations, especially during a global pandemic where people were confined to their homes. We conducted stakeholder interviews to identify what millennials' habits are currently to be sustainable in their kitchen spaces. We discovered a common pattern that users were aware and conscious of their food waste; however, they did not understand processes, like composting, to repurpose their waste. In addition, an audit of the current indoor composter landscape revealed the lack of modern forms and materials, deterring aesthetic-inclined consumer profiles like millennials from investing in such products.
As a group, we identified an opportunity to design an educational tool and visually appealing countertop composter that is easy to use.
We decided upon design criteria that ultimately helped guide our whole process. Our biggest priorities were to ensure that the composter was both beautiful and functional in introducing the composting process to consumers.
1. Function- Multifunctional, easily able to be transported, provides supplies to start the process immediately
2. Appearance- not a huge size commitment, made of sustainable material, fits in a kitchen environment, and is well-branded.
3. Purpose- Facilitates learning new sustainable habits
Development (Slip Casting Process):
Mold: We first began creating CAD that consisted of three pieces that interlocked together to then give us our negative. Our 3D printed part had to be 13% larger than our projected size to account for shrinkage during the firing process. Our part was made into three separate pieces, one piece that was our composter then a top spare, and a bottom spare that was detachable to create the bottom of our final ceramic vessel. Now that we have our 3D printed part epoxied together we are able to create the first half of the plaster mold. We used our 3D printed part, clay and cottle boards to make the first half. Once we have the first part of our mold we use our new plaster part and our 3D print to create the second part of our plaster mold. Lastly, we made our third and final piece to our mold. This part would make the foot to the ceramic composter. Once we have all three of our mold pieces made, we use ratchet straps to keep them together, and we put the mold into a dry box to set up completely before we start putting the slip in.
Slip Casting: To make 15 perfect ceramic vessels we had a goal of having to make about 25 to account for our learning curve. This would account for glazing errors, mistakes in the finish, or a bump on the side of a table. To prepare to pour we would sieve about 5 gallons of Stoneware slip twice to make sure the slip was smooth. We would then take the plaster mold out of the dry box, wipe it down to make sure no debris could affect our pour. Once the mold is dry and put back together with two ratchet straps we would use pitchers to slowly pour the slip into the prepared mold. Once the slip got close to the top we would tilt the mold to try and lessen the chance for air bubbles in the final piece. We then have the mold with the slip inside sit for 1 hour for our desired thickness of our vessel. Once the hour was up we would slowly pour the slip out of the mold and we would have it sit on the top of the bucket to drain the slip from the mold. After it stops dripping we transfer it to a table where it would stay upside down but leaned against a piece of wood for all the slip to drain without leaving any clumps on the inside of our piece. Then we would put the mold with our piece still inside into a 110 degree dry box for an hour. We then would demold our piece and let it set up before cutting out our hole for our compost tea bag string. That pressure from the cut could affect the shape of the vessel if we tried to make the cut before the clay was dry enough. Once the ceramic piece is about cheese hard we cut off the excess clay made by the spare, sand and smooth the seams left by the mold, and make the top rim of our vessel. Once the piece is cleaned, sanded, the piece would go into a bisque firing.
Glazing: Once our pieces came out of the bisque fire we would sand and clean them one last time before we dip them into our custom made slip. We decided to make our own slip to achieve our speckled finish we wanted. Once the slip was dry we would use a spray gun to put a coat of clear glaze on the outside of our piece. At this point the vessel is now ready to go into the kiln for its final firing.
Extras: The rest of our composting kit consisted of soft maple lids that we CNC milled. Two nylon bags that are used as our compost tea bags, two dirt pucks to help start the compost. Our instruction card, and two pieces of our "compost me" paper that was used to cushion the ceramic vessel in its box.
How it Works: The Bloom composter has 2 use methods. The first is the coffee ground compost method, followed by the compost tea method.
Setup includes placing a mesh bag inside the ceramic vessel, tightening it around the lip, and expanding the dirt puck inside with a cup of water. Once the Bloom is prepared, coffee ground composting can begin.
Coffee compost method:
1. Dump leftover coffee grounds into the vessel
2. Stir the dirt and grounds until mixed and replace the lid
3. Repeat daily
4. When it's full, remove the bag of compost and empty it outside, in a plant/garden OR continue to the compost tea method
Compost tea method:
1. Cinch the bag and slide the rope into the vertical slot, then slide the bead to tighten the bag
2. Pour water into the vessel until bag is fully submerged
3. Brew the compost tea 12-24 hours
4. Remove the bag and empty it outside, in a plant/garden or add it to a larger compost pile
5. The compost tea left in the vessel can be used to water plants