Sustainable design: exploring the Rethinking Plastic program

in Sustainable Design

“Plastic causes environmental problems, but it also has advantages. It’s not black or white.”

This is the opening sentence introducing the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic (opened in a new window/tab), an initiative exploring sustainable uses of plastics.

With a total of 7 embassies, the World Design Embassies program (opened in a new window/tab) brings together the design community to work on big current challenges: safety, mobility, water, health, circular & biobased, food and plastic waste.

World Design Embassies poster.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: World Design Embassies (opened in a new window/tab)

Rethinking is the core of the matter

Sharing the same idea as the Guiltless Plastic Initiative, the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic originates from an essential mindset shift that needs to happen to solve our plastic waste problem.

Walking away from plastic and finding alternatives is important, but it’s just one part of the solution. In addition to this, we need to figure out ways to sustainably reuse existing plastic.

When reusing plastic the challenge is twofold.
First, plastic needs to be used to make valuable and long-lasting objects (which will also help to overcome the idea that plastic is cheap).
Second, its use needs to be sustainable over time. Namely, it has to allow reusing the same material over and over again, with a circular design approach.
In one word, the core of the matter is rethinking, both how and why we use plastic.

Designers stand at the forefront of this rethinking effort and the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic was born to foster the conversation.

Following are 6 interior-design-related projects that embody a rethinking-plastic philosophy.

Rethinking Plastic poster.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Rethinking Plastic (opened in a new window/tab)

Recycling plastic in egg-sized pieces

Designer: Object Density

The Good Egg (opened in a new window/tab) is a pair of egg cups made upcycling the equivalent of about one egg of polypropylene (PP) waste (the one indicated with the number 5 in the recycling symbols).
Creating a direct link between the raw material and its new use, this object is a tangible reminder of the opportunities behind plastic upcycling.

Recycled plastic egg cups on a table.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Object Density (opened in a new window/tab)

Recycled plastic flooring

Designer: Bolon

Bolon (opened in a new window/tab) is a vinyl flooring manufacturer that uses PVC waste as raw material.
All Bolon flooring options make use of plastic waste, in a proportion that varies from 10% to 30% of the total raw material composition.
Used vinyl is taken back, ground and reused in new production over and over again.

See Bolon floors on SforSustainable, the sustainable interior design directory I curate (opened in a new window/tab)

Dining space with recycled vinyl floor in a pattern that resembles wood.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Bolon (opened in a new window/tab)

From building waste to building material

Designer: Pretty Plastic

Pretty Plastic (opened in a new window/tab) tiles are made reusing plastic building components such as window frames, downspouts and rain gutters.
Thanks to their resistance to water, wind, fire and UV rays, these tiles are suitable for external facade claddings. They're easy to install (just one screw per tile) and are made to last for a long time.
After use, they can be endlessly recycled, contributing to a truly circular move in the building industry!

A building whose facade is cladded with recycled plastic tiles.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Pretty Plastic (opened in a new window/tab)

Waste-plastic mother of pearl

Designer: Plasticiet

Mother of Pearl (opened in a new window/tab) is a project originating from the willingness to turn plastic waste into something with a distinct aesthetic appeal. Something that could proudly stand next to high-end items.
The result is a marbled surface with an iridescent glow recalling natural mother of pearl – from which its name.

A side table made with recycled plastic mother of pearl.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Plasticiet (opened in a new window/tab)

Plastic waste surfaces

Designer: Plasticiet, Smile Plastics and more

PyraSied (opened in a new window/tab) is a distributor of plastic materials (from Plexiglas to other solid surfaces), including a number of sustainable options made with pre and post-consumer plastic waste.
The many applications range from furniture to wall finishes.
Moving one more step towards closing the loop, PyraSied offers a take-back service. All the Plexiglas waste collected is reused in new productions.

A retail shelving system made of colourful sheets of recycled plastic.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Greencast via PyraSied (opened in a new window/tab)
A table whose top is made with a recycled plastic composite.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Smile Plastics (opened in a new window/tab)
A bathroom vanity made with a recycled plastic composite.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Smile Plastics (opened in a new window/tab)

From plastic waste to pigment

Designer: Soowon Chae

Last but certainly not least, Plastigela (opened in a new window/tab) shows an alternative use of plastic waste: as a pigment.
Plastigela is a textile-like material made of recycled plastic, ochre, gelatine, glycerine and water.
Using plastic particles as a pigment makes the material double-sided: rough and bright on one side, and smooth with a more muted colour on the other.

A few sheets of Plastigela laying on a table.<span class="sr-only"> (opened in a new window/tab)</span>
Credit: Soowon Chae (opened in a new window/tab)

 
The bottom line of this inspiring exhibition is that plastic can have a number of valuable and sustainable applications.
It’s up to us to find them and start using plastic for what it’s meant to be: a versatile and very durable material.

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