For the second time this year, London Design Fair (opened in a new window/tab) has presented the Material of the Year showcase.
Based on a material that is particularly relevant in the current design arena, this event challenges designers in exploiting and interpreting its potential.
This year was the turn of plastic.
Extremely common in every aspect of our life, plastic has been synonym of progress and modernity for long time. Fast forward, such a massive use, together with the many single-use applications and its extremely long biodegradation rates, have transformed plastic into a threat for the environment.
Plastic pollution is a sad reality these days, but the good news is that more and more people and governments are questioning the use of plastic and looking for more environmentally sound alternatives.
The design world is no different and this edition of the Material of the Year in London has selected 4 designers that are transforming plastic waste into a resource, giving it a whole new value and a new life.
The exhibition was named Plastic: Beyond the Chipper exactly to highlight the focus on new ways to reuse plastic waste.
So let's meet the 4 Material of the Year Designers and their creations!
Weez & Merl - UK
Based on the concepts of circular and local economy, Louise and Madeleine Thilly (i.e. the minds behind Weez & Merl) are recycling LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), a material found in plastic shopping bags, film packaging and bubble wrap.
The project is sustainable in more than one way.
Envisioning a zero waste future, Week & Merl have chosen to work with LDPE, a material that can be re-melted endlessly. But besides giving new life to waste, they take a local approach with a very special note. Sourcing LDPE from the waste of local businesses in Brighton & Hove, they recycle in the UK a material that so far has been often shipped abroad for recycling. A real turning point on LDPE's sustainability scoreboard!
Once melted, LDPE has a dough-like consistency, which allows to work it by hand like a cake.
Kneading differently coloured materials together, they obtain a marble-like compound, that is then pressed and cut to size. The whole process has zero waste as both the excess from cutting and the dust from sanding can be re-melted and used again.
The results are coasters, plates and more. At London Design Fair they presented a coffee table,
a table lamp,
and a stand-alone panel, all made entirely out of LDPE.
Kodai Iwamoto Design - Japan
In its product design practice, Kodai Iwamoto is interested in the relation between traditional craft processes and mass produced materials. With this in mind, he has developed an innovative strategy to fight plastic pollution, applying hand-made glass blowing techniques to cheap PVC pipes (the ones commonly used for plumbing). After heating their surface to make it soft, the pipes are put into a wooden mould and hand-blown, giving birth to vases with a definitely refined shape!
The idea is absolutely brilliant in that it uses a completely unattractive material and gives it a totally new value through processing. A concept with huge potential!
Charlotte Kidger - UK
The Industrial Craft project is another interesting answer to plastic pollution.
In a period where CNC (Computer Numerical Control) applications are rising – and producing increasing amounts of waste – this initiative continues the cycle with a new block: recycling.
Charlotte Kidger has worked together with Bakers Patterns (opened in a new window/tab), a UK producer of 3D models made of polyurethane and polystyrene foam (two plastic polymers). In particular, she has explored the potential of the polyurethane foam dust generated as a by-product of milling.
The result is a versatile material that can be casted, cut, sanded and used into CNC again.
At London Design Fair she presented a series of vessels and side tables, showing the solidity and versatility of this material. Another amazing example of local and circular economy!
Dirk Vander Kooij - Netherlands
3D printing applied to furniture production is Dirk Vander Kooij's universe.
In his hands, polycarbonate objects (like CDs and chocolate moulds) become chunky plastic "threads" that are then extruded like a toothpaste and stacked to shape all kind of objects from vases to chairs and lamps.
The beauty of this project lies in the combination between a totally new process and uninteresting plastic waste, which is able to give a new unique value to materials that would otherwise have ended up in landfills.
At London Design Fair he presented:
Changing Vases, that visually change shape depending on the point of view,
Iced Bubbles and Oak shelving unit, with an interesting mix of recycled plastic and wood,
Fresnel pendant LED lamp,
and the Buitenhuis Chandelier.
After the initiatives presented at the latest Milan Design Week to face plastic pollution (remember the post where we looked into them?), it's truly hopeful to see so many more objects coming out of plastic waste!
Plastic pollution may not be definitive and a more mindful use of resources may really become the new paradigm in the near future!
Previous posts on plastic pollution: