Plastic recycling in design: the Guiltless Plastic initiative

in Sustainable Design

We all know that plastic is a problem in our world.
There is a giant island of plastic trash in the ocean and previsions say that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fishes in the sea...pretty scary.
A combined effort that includes both plastic recycling and using less of it is essential to reverse the trend. But, overall, I do agree with Ellen MacArthur Foundation when they say that
 

"Waste is a design flaw"

 
Waste is ultimately a consequence of our linear economy and the problem would be solved if we switched to a circular economy. For sure that's easier said than done, but in general, how products are designed can make a tremendous difference.
This year’s Milan Design Week has featured a lot of sustainable and circular design ideas with a particular focus on plastic recycling and one of the most ambitious has been the Guiltless Plastic Prize (opened in a new window/tab).

Presentation banner of the Guiltless Plastic initiative.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Dezeen (opened in a new window/tab)

With this initiative, Rossana Orlandi (design gallerist and founder of the prize) wanted to highlight that it’s not plastic to be a problem in itself, but it’s how we use it. Plastic is now found in a lot of packaging and single-use products that have an extremely short lifecycle after which they just gets thrown away.

However, looking at the situation with a positive mindset, this mountain of plastic trash is a very abundant resource and Rossana Orlandi challenged designers worldwide to create something out of it.
 

Re-using, recycling and reinventing are the challenges that this prize wishes to bring to the global design community. When transformed, plastic can become a resource with vast possibilities and potentials”
Cit. Rossana Orlandi

Plastic recycling competition: the winners

More than 300 plastic recycling projects have been submitted and today we’re going to meet the 3 winners!

Substantial collection

Designer: Alexander Schul (opened in a new window/tab)
Category: Design

A chair, a lamp and a side table/stool, all made entirely out of plastic trash (except the screws of course).
Alexander Schul designed this plastic recycling collection to balance the needs of people, industry and the environment. With this in mind, he made sure all pieces of the collection are functional and practical (to the delight of final users), easy to manufacture (industry is saying thank you) and sustainable (making the Earth happy too).

Recycled plastic chair winning the Guiltess Plastic Prize; one of the plastic recycling initiatives presented at Milan Design Week.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Recycled plastic lamp winning the Guiltess Plastic Prize: one of the plastic recycling initiatives presented at Milan Design Week.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Recycled plastic stool winning the Guiltess Plastic Prize: one of the plastic recycling initiatives presented at Milan Design Week.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credits: Alexander Schul (opened in a new window/tab)

PLASTEX

Designer: Reform Studio (opened in a new window/tab) (aka Hend Riad & Mariam Hazem)
Category: Home Textiles

Plastic bags are a big contributor to plastic waste and a single plastic bag has an average life of just 12 minutes!
In order to address this problem, Reform Studio has invented Plastex, a sustainable material made by weaving plastic bags collected from factories' waste. Plastex can become many things including a textile product and the upholstery of a chair.
Besides being environmentally friendly, this project is helping local communities in Egypt, empowering craftsmen and women and giving a boost to hand-weaving, a craft that is getting lost with time.

Close up of Plastex, a sustainable material made recycling plastic bags.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Metal chair with seat upholstered with Plastex, a sustainable material made recycling plastic bags.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Wooden stool with seat upholstered with Plastex, a sustainable material made recycling plastic bags.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credits: Reform Studio (opened in a new window/tab)

PRECIOUS PLASTIC

Designer: Dave Hakkens (opened in a new window/tab)
Category: Conscious Innovation Projects

The Precious Plastic project aims at empowering people to act against plastic pollution. Dave Hakkens has designed plastic recycling workspaces that fit into a shipping container and include everything from shredding to moulding new objects. Basically, trash enters the workspace and new objects leave it!

This is an open source project. Technical drawings to build the workspace are available online for free, together with video tutorials teaching how to make objects, the support of a global community and even an online store to buy and sell products! And to make the initiative even more accessible, they've created an online map where everybody can sign in and make himself available to contribute to one specific task (funding, building, promoting selling etc.), thus making it much easier to find like-minded people and start a plastic recycling business together!

A shipping container turned into the Precious Plastic workspace.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
A wall of hexagonal recycled plastic tiles.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credits: Precious Plastic (opened in a new window/tab)

Spreading the plastic recycling challenge

The Guiltless Plastic initiative wanted to involve the entire design community. Well-known designers have also been invited to join the challenge and their creations - the Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces - were exposed during Milan Design Week in the Railway Pavilion of Science and Technology's museum. Practically, there were recycled plastic designs among old train locomotives; so much Rossana Orlandi's style!
Here is a gallery of my favourites!

Wilhelm lamp

Designer: Tiziano Vudafieri (opened in a new window/tab)
A 3D printed chandelier, made of recycled poly-carbonate. The shape is a tribute to the iconic vase of the Bauhaus designer Wilhelm Wagenfeld. And the production exploits an innovative technology of our era (3D printing), just like the vase was made with an innovative technology of that time (the blow-and-blow technique).

Wilhelm lamp, one of the plastic recycling design projects joining the Guiltless Plastic Initiative.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Electronic man

Designer: Piet Hein Eek (opened in a new window/tab)
A provocative sculpture creating a piece of art out of electronic waste.

The Electronic man, a human bust made assembling electronic waste.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Wasting time daybed

Designer:Patricia Urquiola (opened in a new window/tab) (with Moroso and MiniWiz)
Besides having the most appropriate name – Wasting time – the materials of this daybed are completely recycled. The base is a recycled-PET foam, the fabrics are made from PET bottles, the inner padding is recycled and all zip and Velcro fastenings come from discarded production.

Daybed with recycled plastic base and fabrics; one of the plastic recycling design projects joining the Guiltless Plastic Initiative.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Ocean Terrazzo bench & Capsule Ocean Plastic Hourglass

Designer: Brodie Neill (opened in a new window/tab)
This collection aims at shining light on the emergency of ocean plastic. The hourglass is filled with tiny plastic pieces collected on the beach and each hourglass contains plastic coming from a specific beach in the world.
Similarly, the bench uses chips of ocean plastic to make a terrazzo finish, perfectly in line with the latest trends.

Hourglass and bench made recycling plastic.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Tronco coffee table

Designer: Enrico Marone Cinzano (opened in a new window/tab)
This is definitely one of my top favourites! The wooden top comes from a trunk of maritime pine tree that fell naturally, whereas the base is made recycling plastic cutting boards and casings.

Black coffee table with wooden top and recycled plastic base; one of the plastic recycling design projects joining the Guiltless Plastic Initiative.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Alex daybed

Designer: Alessandro Mendini for WET (opened in a new window/tab)
This daybed – designed by Alessandro Mendini himself – is one of the possible applications of Ecopixel, a material that gives new life to waste plastic from industrial and household trash.

Colorful daybed with a terrazzo finish; one of the plastic recycling design projects joining the Guiltless Plastic Initiative.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Endless chair

Designer: Dirk Vander Kooij (opened in a new window/tab)
This chair is actually one single plastic string that is given the shape of a chair by a robot; impressive! By the way, do you remember that we met Dirk already when we talked about the plastic-based designs presented at London Design Week?

Recycled plastic chairs; clear and black.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Railway flowers

Designer: William Amor (opened in a new window/tab)
Last but not least, William Amor has turned plastic waste into delicate (and extremely realistic) flowers, that added a gentle touch to the rough location.

Plastic recycling flowers; one of the projects joining the Guiltless Plastic Initiative..<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: DforDesign

Needless to say, I'm adding all these designs to SforSustainable (my curated collection of sustainable home design products)!

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Comments

Don't be shy, let me know what you think!

On Paula said:
I'm sure this material is suitable for tiling kitchen and/or bathrooms but I am having the toughest time finding a supplier or even design ideas. Is it simply not available yet? I'm in the US.
On Silvia - DforDesign said:
Hi Paula, thanks for reaching out! Yes, there are some experimentations in progress for tiles and continuous surfaces! For specific product references, you might want to take a look at SforSustainable, the directory of sustainable interior design products - including finishes - I curate (you'll find the link on the menu). There are also a couple of plastic-based surfaces! :)

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