Paula Nerlich uses food waste from chocolate factory to create a solid biomaterial

At Punctuate Design, we like to highlight designers who are committed to sustainable development, those who take care of the circularity of the products they design and who generally integrate the preservation of the environment in their work. Through the "personalities of the day", we would like to introduce you to these designers who inspire us on a daily basis.


Today, we introduce you to Paula Nerlich, a designer from Berlin, based in Newcastle, whose specialty is designing circular materials. At Punctuate Design, we were pleased to work with her on one of her many materials and developed the concept KUSK, made from the material COCOA. This is her story...

Her commitment

Paula's commitment to the environment comes from something personal and not a legacy of her education or schooling. She recounts that at the time, when she was still in art school, sustainable development was an issue that was rarely addressed. However, Paula has always been attentive to the world around her and to its fauna and flora. She quickly understood the issues that threaten our planet and decided to act accordingly. 

She decided to make the preservation of our environment a priority, first in her personal life, by deciding for example to become vegetarian, then vegan, and then in her professional life, through her work as a material designer. "Today we must necessarily change" she explains. "It's a given, especially for our generation".

Her work as a material designer

© Paula Nerlich

Paula has the feeling that she is discovering more and more every day about her work as a material designer. Indeed, although she actually trained as a designer, she originally studied fashion and textile design and developed her passion for materials much later.

"What interests me in this role is being able to think about the full life cycle of materials", she explains.

When you think about design in a circular way, as Paula does, you have to consider the different stages a product encounters, from its creation to its end of life.  

In her ecological approach, Paula is interested in the origin of the resources she uses and always anticipates the end of life of her creations. "This is for me the role of a circular material designer". Finally, she told us that she is passionate about textures and colors, which also drives the aesthetic of her work.

Her definition of design

"Design is like a key, it is used to open doors, which once opened help us to explore different aspects of our lives."

Paula is fascinated by the many facets of design and the many perspectives they offer. She sees design as a way to communicate, a space where we can freely rethink the world around us, a space where we can see our goals realized in a tangible way. Design is directly applicable, it is like the translation of an idea into a real product.

The goal of her research


Through her research, Paula wants to show that it is possible to find innovative solutions, to create sustainable materials with a low impact on our planet, without having a heavy scientific background. Based on this principle, she develops several materials, such as Aqua Faba Foam and COCOA. In her material research she develops vegan and compostable foams and bioplastics. In projects such as BioFashion, she looks to reveal the potential of tomorrow's clothing thanks to biomaterials. Paula's research is diverse and we had to select one material for this interview. Our choice was obviously the development of the COCOA material, which we used during our collaboration on KUSK.

The origin of COCOA material

COCOA is an ingenious material, composed of 50% of the shells that initially protect the cocoa beans, mixed with other vegan, compostable and environmentally friendly ingredients. At the time, Paula selected this unusual ingredient, which represents several tons of surplus every year. Indeed, in the cocoa industry, only the bean is important and only parts of the surplus from chocolate production find further use. True to her goals, the designer also made sure to create a reusable and compostable material. With this intriguing material, Paula limits the accumulation of waste and brings a circular alternative.

COCOA, ©Raumprobe

The design of COCOA was however far from being easy. Indeed, as with any experimental work, it is necessary to make many tests before getting a successful result. Paula admits that she had to try plenty of times before being fully satisfied with the texture of her material and its physical form.  She tells us that she had to work in her kitchen during the lockdown, as she could not access her own work space. An experience that the designer is not ready to forget. 

She finally completed the first stage of the development of COCOA and immediately set herself a new challenge: to create a physical product from her new material. With this goal in mind, she began to collaborate with our studio Punctuate Design.

Her collaboration with Punctuate Design

KUSK introduces a speculative concept for the cosmetics industry. Paula explains this choice: "Consumers are more and more involved in the make-up industry, and it is an industry that generates a lot of packaging and plastic waste". The KUSK containers are not just containers, they must allow users to produce their own cosmetics or care-products : "Many people are looking for natural products to make by themselves at home, many are experimenting with DIY, they want their own care products, without plastic or toxic ingredients". Paula also adds that cocoa contains antioxidants that are beneficial for cosmetic products.

KUSK, image by Punctuate Design, ©Thibault Lerailler & Paula Nerlich

Paula says she was very excited to collaborate with Punctuate Design to develop a product from COCOA. She found many synergies with the philosophy of our studio:

"Thibault (the founder of the studio) is a product designer, I was convinced by his approach and his commitment, we had the same values”.

She then adds to conclude:

"Kusk is the reflection of our work in collaboration, the first step was to make the research on COCOA, then it was necessary to study the means of exporting the product, then Thibault developed a concept which could be industrialized".

Paula and her future projects 

Paula is an extremely versatile designer, able to manage her research, develop new materials, while also pursuing other activities. She regularly offers her time and expertise to various academic institutions, through teaching. Based on her research and design work, she gives lectures on the importance of circularity and the value of waste, which leads to real exchanges with students. We asked her how she manages to take on all of her tasks and her answer was, "It's hard to manage everything, but it's always fun and it supports me through my PhD". 

Currently, Paula is working on the HBI concept (Human-Bacteria Interfaces), which aims to improve the understanding of the interactions between the human and microbial world. This innovative and futuristic project has already led to the creation of a first tangible prototype: ALI.

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Francois Savaton
Writer for Punctuate Design / Student at Sciences Po Rennes (France), Caen campus, specializing in environmental and sustainable development issues
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