We all know that plastic is a problem in our world.
An incredible amount of plastic trash is overloading landfills and oceans. But this is not definitive. In fact:
"Waste is a design flaw"
Cit. Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Ultimately, waste is a consequence of our linear economy and the problem would be solved if we transitioned to a circular economy.
For sure that's easier said than done, but how products are designed can certainly make a tremendous difference.
Milan Design Week 2019 has featured a lot of sustainable and circular design projects.
A particular interest has gone on plastic recycling and one of the most ambitious initiatives has been the Guiltless Plastic Prize (opened in a new window/tab).
With this initiative, Rossana Orlandi (design gallerist and creator of the prize) wanted to highlight that it’s not plastic to be a problem in itself, but it’s how we use it.
Indeed, plastic is now found in a lot of single-use products that are designed to be thrown away after a very short time. Which is in obvious contrast with plastics’ long biodegradation rates.
Looking at the situation with a positive mindset, the mountain of plastic trash we now have to deal with is a very abundant resource. And Rossana Orlandi has 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 below is an overview of the 3 winners
Designer: Alexander Schul (opened in a new window/tab)
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).
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 be turned into 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 while giving a boost to hand-weaving – a craft that is getting lost with time.
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 equipment. 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!
To make the initiative even more accessible, the creators have also put together an online map where anybody can sign in and make himself available to contribute to one specific task (funding, building, promoting selling etc.). This makes it much easier to find like-minded people and start a plastic recycling business together!
Spreading the plastic recycling challenge
The Guiltless Plastic initiative aimed at involving the entire design community. Therefore, very renowned designers have also been invited to join the challenge! Their creations – the Ro Plastic-Master’s Pieces – have been 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!
Below is a gallery of my favourites…
A 3D printed chandelier, made of recycled poly-carbonate. Its shape is a tribute to the iconic vase of the Bauhaus designer Wilhelm Wagenfeld. 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).
A provocative sculpture creating a piece of art out of electronic waste.
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.
Ocean Terrazzo bench & Capsule Ocean Plastic Hourglass
This collection aims at shining a light on 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 create a terrazzo finish – perfectly in line with the latest trends.
Tronco coffee table
This is definitely one of my top favourites! The wooden top comes from a trunk of maritime pine that fell naturally, whereas the base is made recycling plastic cutting boards and casings.
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.
This chair is actually obtained with one single plastic string that is given the shape of a chair by a robot; impressive!
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.
For more recycled plastic applications in design, you’re welcome to take a look at SforSustainable (opened in a new window/tab) – the sustainable interior design platform I curate!