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london design fair 2018: plastic under the spotlight

in sustainable design

Material of the Year is a showcase – hosted in London Design Fair – that challenges designers to work on new applications for a material that is particularly relevant in the current design arena.

This year has been the turn of plastic. Extremely common in every aspect of our life, plastic has been the synonym of progress and modernity for a long time. Fast forward, the combination of massive use, too many single-use applications and extremely long biodegradation rates, has transformed plastic into a threat for the environment.

Plastic pollution is a sad reality these days. But the good news is that more and more people and governments are questioning the use of plastic, looking for more environmentally sound alternatives.

The design world is no different. This edition of the Material of the Year in London has focused on new ways of using plastic waste. Named Plastic: Beyond the Chipper, the exhibition has showcased the works of 4 designers that are approaching plastic with a circular design mentality, seeing plastic waste as a resource and transforming it into useful objects.

So let’s explore their creations!

weez & merl - uk

Based on the concepts of local and circular economy, Louise and Madeleine Thilly (i.e. the minds behind Weez & Merl) are upcycling LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), a material found in plastic shopping bags, film packaging and bubble wrap.

The project is sustainable in more than one way. Envisioning a zero-waste future, Week & Merl have chosen to work with LDPE, a material that can be re-melted endlessly. Besides giving new life to waste, this project also takes an especially precious local approach. Sourcing LDPE from the waste of local businesses in Brighton & Hove allows recycling in the UK a material that – so far – has been often shipped abroad for recycling. A real turning point on LDPE’s sustainability scoreboard!

The process starts with melting and mixing different colours of LDPE in a dough-like compound, that is then pressed and cut to size. Since both the excess from cutting and the dust from sanding can be re-melted and used again, the whole process is actually zero-waste.

This versatile material can be turned into coasters and serving plates. Or – as showcased during London Design Fair – into coffee tables, table lamps and stand-alone panels.

Weez & Merl production process.
Weez & Merl production process; the marble-like compound.
Credits: Weez & Merl
Weez & Merl recycled plastic coffee table.
Weez & Merl recycled plastic lamp.
Weez & Merl recycled plastic panel.
Credits: Weez & Merl (via Instagram)

kodai iwamoto design - japan

In its product design practice, Kodai Iwamoto is interested in the relation between traditional craft processes and mass-produced materials. With this in mind, he has developed an innovative strategy to fight plastic pollution, applying hand-made glass blowing techniques to cheap PVC pipes (the ones commonly used for plumbing).

After softening them with heat, the pipes are placed into a wooden mould and hand-blown, creating vases with incredibly elegant shapes! A brilliant idea, that uses a totally unattractive material and gives it new value through processing!

Kodai Iwamoto Design recycled plastic vases.
Credit: Kodai Iwamoto Design

charlotte kidger - uk

The Industrial Craft project is another interesting answer to plastic pollution. In a period where CNC (Computer Numerical Control) applications are on the rise – and produce increasing amounts of waste – this initiative continues the cycle with a new block: recycling.

For this project, Charlotte Kidger has worked with Bakers Patterns, a UK producer of 3D models made of polyurethane and polystyrene foam (two plastic polymers). In particular, she has explored the potential of the polyurethane foam dust generated as a by-product of milling. This has resulted in a versatile material that can be cast, cut, sanded and used into CNC machines again.

At London Design Fair, Charlotte Kidger has presented a series of vessels and side tables, showing the solidity and versatility of this material. Another amazing example of a local and circular economy!

Charlotte Kidger recycled plastic composite material.
Charlotte Kidger recycled plastic vases and tables.
Credits: Charlotte Kidger

dirk vander kooij - the netherlands

3D printing applied to furniture production is Dirk Vander Kooij’s universe. In his hands, polycarbonate objects (like CDs and chocolate moulds) become chunky plastic “threads” that are then extruded like toothpaste and stacked to shape.

Again, the beauty of this project lies in treating uninteresting plastic waste with a state-of-the-art process. This opens new possibilities for the material, saving it from landfills.

At London Design Fair, Dirk Vander Kooij has presented vases that visually change shape depending on the point of view, a shelving unit mixing recycled plastic and wood, and two lighting options.

Dirk Vander Kooij Changing vases.
Credit: Dirk Vander Kooij
Dirk Vander Kooij Iced Bubbles and Oak shelving unit.
Credit: Dirk Vander Kooij
Dirk Vander Kooij Fresnel light.
Credit: Dirk Vander Kooij
Dirk Vander Kooij Buitenhuis Chandelier.
Credit: Dirk Vander Kooij

These projects show the huge potential of plastic waste for design applications. An inspiring new field of work that can move the industry – and our society as a whole – towards more sustainable standards!

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