Bringing Plastic Home
Ideas that break down the Plastics problem and bring solutions into homes and communities
5 Minute Read, By Purva Chawla
While the challenges that plastic poses across industries and environments today are mammoth, the solutions that tackle them needn't be.
Pushing past gaps inherent in council recycling, and constraints presented by multiple types of plastic waste itself–too small, too soft, too problematic to separate– many designers and makers are inventing products or systems that tackle the problem of plastic both independently and creatively.
The projects featured by us today are the work of emerging and entrepreneurial designers and studios, whose solutions for plastic waste bypass conventional recycling or re-use mechanisms to generate value for households, communities and a new generation of consumers.
Young design studio Gomi has centered its efforts on flexible plastic. This subset encompasses wraps and bags for food and perishables–soft plastic packaging of all types.
This category of plastic is recycled the least, for a few key reasons.
The first is the challenge of collecting and sorting this type of waste–thin plastic films and wraps are most often trashed together with other bits, and are hard to separate. On the other hand, is the fact that if councils began recycling flexible plastics, they would invariably make a loss. This is because the material costs far more to recycle, that the price it can command when sold again. With a high price and lower revenue associated with its recycling, flexible plastic doesn't feature heavily in council recycling schemes.
The founders of Gomi, designers Tom Meades, and Pawan Saunya, felt frustrated with the lack of initiatives focussed on flexible plastic waste, so they decided to collect and process it into fun, engaging, high-quality products that appeal to younger generations. Their first product is a portable Bluetooth speaker made from "trash", which can easily be repaired by a user if any of its components fail in the future.
So what is the Gomi process exactly?
1. They collect flexible plastic waste from local businesses, restaurants, bars, shops, even residential properties through community drop-off points.
2. This collection is taken to their studio and separated into different plastic categories such as LDPE, HDPE & PP.
3. They melt this material, marble it into doughy, colorful balls of plastic, and compress it into their Gomi speaker molds.
4. Once cooled, they remove the material from these molds, click in the electronics, and lock the components together.
5. Finally, they drop these products into their sustainable packaging and ship them out worldwide.
Project USP: We like the fact that Gomi has chosen the format of a sustainable speaker for their output. The trendy product appeals to a new generation of waste-conscious users. It also represents a smart dissection of speakers themselves. With the right technical components inside them, the shell and grills of speaks can indeed be cast from non-traditional, and more sustainable materials—a fact that Gomi’s work opens our eyes to.
Prolong by Charlotte Allen
Can household waste—especially recyclables like paper, cardboard, and plastic—be morphed into tools and objects for the home?
London based designer Charlotte Allen presents a creative answer to this question. After collecting a month’s worth of household waste, she engineered an attractive mid-height kitchen stool from this material. While the speckled seat is a blend of colored HDPE (High-density Polyethylene, seen most often as milk or juice bottles), the stool's tripod-like legs are layered assemblies of paper waste. Somewhat comfortingly, these legs feel earthy and natural—like cylindrical sections of a sub-terrain. This is a huge plus, considering so many recycled material-based objects seem synthetic and constructed.
Countering the throwaway culture we are witnessing as a society today, Charlotte’s project suggests ways that we can instead prolong our relationship with what is considered “waste”.
Project USP: We love Charlotte’s project and end-product for its closed-loop process. From the waste of a home to usable products for the same house. While she did require heat press machinery for this, which she employed through her university, such tools are becoming increasingly more accessible through community fab-labs or pay as you go maker spaces.
This project won Charlotte a Creative Conscience Award in the Product and Structural Design category this year. The awards honor socially valuable, human-centered design and inspire creatives across all industries to apply their talents in this direction.
Not Just Useless by Katalin Huszár
With plastic straws emerging as a global challenge of their own–owed to rampant use and disposal–cities around the world are trying to halt their use and put substitutes in place. Unfortunately, this will be a slow-moving and painstaking change. After all, at the start of 2018, the United States alone consumed 500 million plastic straws every single day.
With that context in mind, Hungarian designer Katalin Huszár’s project Not Just Useless is thought-provoking and value generating. NOT JUST USELESS is an innovative eco-design initiative focussed on collecting and re-using plastic straws, with the aim of raising awareness about excessive consumer waste. Influenced by the straw-littered streets of Bairro Alto, in Lisbon, Portugal, the project aims to create a new mindset to a seemingly trivial, yet troubling phenomenon. The project’s idea is to collect used straws from consumers at dedicated locations and institutions in the city, and let designers create new objects with them; these object then return to the very same sites, offering consumers a chance to see their 'not-so-useless' waste come alive again.
With colorful and bold tapestry-like panels as its primary output, Katalin's design venture plays with the concept of recycling as we know it. Refreshingly, users can play an interactive role in the design process here, opening the door to a new perspective and consciousness. Consumers have a significant impact on how this project progresses and can shape the final design with a simple act on their part–by not throwing away their used drinking straws, but putting them in nearby containers designed to collect them. A QR code–located on collection boxes–navigates to the page of the project, allowing consumers to follow the entire process. The design concept shifts and adapts with the change in volume, colors, and shapes of the collected straws, and an engaged public can follow the entire process.
Project USP: Katalin’s textiles tap into the graphic and structural potential of the average plastic straw. Stacked and angled rows of pressed straws form bold patterns, and their flyaway, lightweight nature becomes an asset now in the construction of new types of textiles.
The project is a different take on the plastic straw-problem, one that doesn’t suggest mashing up and remolding the base material (plastic), rather it says that plastic straws as we see them today are “not just useless”.