Solving the plastic-waste challenge

in Sustainable Design

Plastic waste is a prominent issue in our society.
Endless piles of plastic trash are occupying landfills and polluting seas.
It’s time to do something about it!

There are two main ways of approaching the plastic-waste challenge. Upcycling existing plastic into something useful and finding alternative eco-friendly materials.

Examples of both strategies have been presented at Milan Design Week 2018, and here are the main highlights.

Upcycling plastic toys

Plastic is what the majority of babies' and kids' toys are made of.
Toys have generally a very short lifecycle and are often not recycled. A huge amount of plastic, that is valued about 15 times higher than the plastic used for food packaging!

ecoBirdy is a Belgian company that transforms plastic toys into furniture for children.
ecoBirdy has conceived a complete waste-recycling system – from collecting old toys to designing and producing new furniture.
To start the process, old toys are chopped in small pieces and automatically sorted by colour (thank you technology). Accurate cleaning and grinding ensure that the final products will be safe and free from harmful chemicals. And after a lab quality control, the chopped plastic is ready to be transformed into beautiful kids' furniture.

At Milan Design Week 2018, the evocative Sea of Plastic installation has displayed the scale of this waste-to-furniture transformation very effectively.

Close-up of the grinding process at ecoBirdy.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Close-up of the moulding process at ecoBirdy.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Sea of Plastic installation displaying how fragments of plastic waste can become furniture and accessories.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credits: ecoBirdy (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

With social responsibility also in mind, ecoBirdy is pairing upcycling with a school awareness program. With the help of an illustrated storybook, ecoBirdy guides children in familiarizing with plastic pollution and understanding the value of sustainable behaviours & waste sorting.

Children class to raise awareness on the importance of sustainable behaviours and waste recycling.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: ecoBirdy (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

And here is the full collection: Kiwi the container, Charlie the chair, Luisa the table and Rhino the lamp. Aren’t they adorable?

ecoBirdy collection of kids furniture and accessories, produced from plastic waste<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: ecoBirdy (opened in a new window/tab)

Upcycling all plastic waste

PET bottles, coffee cups … Plastic waste is everywhere and it grows every day.
Trashpresso is the first movable recycling plant that transforms plastic waste into tiles using solar energy!

The whole plant fits on a 12 meters' platform that can be transported on a truck.
Being powered entirely by solar energy, Trashpresso is completely off-grid and can be operated even in remote locations. Like the Tibetan plateau, that has actually been one of the stops of its demonstrative journey!

Trashpresso on the Tibetan Plateau<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Trashpresso (opened in a new window/tab)

The waste recycling process starts by chopping plastic rubbish into tiny pieces. Then comes washing, drying and dehumidifying. Finally, the tiny shreds of plastic are placed into moulds and baked to create plastic tiles. An air filter installed after the baking unit ensures no toxic vapour is released during melting. And a filter purifies the water used for washing before cycling it back into the process.
Overall, each tile recycles 5 PET bottles or 100 PP bottle caps and ringlets.

The Trashpresso plant: a movable waste recycling station<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Close-up of a tile from Trashpresso, baked from plastic waste<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credits: Trashpresso (opened in a new window/tab)

Bioplastic

Finding alternative eco-friendly materials is an important strategy to reduce future plastic pollution.
One example are bioplastics, plastic polymers derived from bio-based materials rather than from petroleum.

It’s been great to see that Kartell – a company that has chosen plastic as its signature raw material – is also interested in this topic!
At the end of last year, Kartell has announced a strategic investment on Bio-on, an Italian company that is developing revolutionary bioplastic materials derived from agricultural waste.
Fully biodegradable, these biopolymers ensure the same physical & mechanical properties of petroleum-based plastics. And since they're made with agricultural by-products, they're not depleting edible resources.

A view of the Bio-on buildings, where they study and develop new plastic biopolymers<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bio-on (opened in a new window/tab)

At Milan Design Week 2018, Kartell has exposed some of its iconic pieces produced with this new biopolymer. Plus Bio chair, a new chair designed by Antonio Citterio.
 

More about Bio chair in this interview to Antonio Citterio and Claudio Luti (CEO of Kartell). (opened in a new window/tab)

Kartell installation at Milan Design Week, showing the new Bio chair and other iconic pieces, all produced with the new biopolymer.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Kartell (opened in a new window/tab)
Bio chair, made of an innovative plastic biopolymer, comes in 6 different colours<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Kartell (opened in a new window/tab) (via Archello (opened in a new window/tab))

 
Solving the plastic-waste issue is surely an ambitious objective, but it's so much worth it too!
Walking through Milan Design Week this year (2018), I’ve been happy to see that something is starting to move. And I do believe this is just one first step in the development of more sustainable standards for the design industry!

For more inspiration, you're welcome to visit SforSustainable (opened in a new window/tab) - the sustainable interior design platform I curate!

SforSustainable graphic<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span> (opened in a new window/tab)

Cover image by ecoBirdy (via Instagram) (opened in a new window/tab)

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