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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, an initiative exploring sustainable uses of plastics.

With a total of 7 embassies, the World Design Embassies program 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.
Credit: World Design Embassies

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.
Credit: Rethinking Plastic

recycling plastic in egg-sized pieces

Designer: Object Density

The Good Egg 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.
Credit: Object Density

from building waste to building material

Designer: Pretty Plastic

Pretty Plastic 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.
Credit: Pretty Plastic

waste-plastic mother of pearl

Designer: Plasticiet

Mother of Pearl 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.
Credit: Plasticiet

plastic waste surfaces

Designer: Plasticiet, Smile Plastics and more

PyraSied 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.
Credit: Greencast via PyraSied
A table whose top is made with a recycled plastic composite.
Credit: Smile Plastics
A bathroom vanity made with a recycled plastic composite.
Credit: Smile Plastics

from plastic waste to pigment

Designer: Soowon Chae

Last but certainly not least, Plastigela 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.
Credit: Soowon Chae

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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