How plastic waste becomes a design piece

Almost nine million tons of microplastics are flushed into our oceans each year. This is not only an enormous threat to the environment, but also a huge waste of important resources. What can be done about it? The simple answer is upcycling.

Recycling vs. upcycling – And where’s the difference?

Admittedly, the principle of recycling is nothing completely new. But if we look at recycling from the point of view of the current situation, reusing already used things will be given a new urgency. Due to the high energy savings and the significantly lower cost of auxiliary materials such as water or chemicals, recycling is an important component in modern waste reduction. Whether paper, old clothes, returnable bottles or even yoga mats – the range of recycled products is getting bigger and bigger. The idea of ​​upcycling also follows a similar approach, but offers more opportunities for creative development. For while recycled materials are merely broken up and then reused in a similar way, upcycling means upgrading supposedly useless or broken materials and objects to make something completely new: bags of old garments, purses made of empty cement sacks, for example Keyrings from broken bicycle tubes. The concept of upcycling gives the imagination free rein and makes it possible to incorporate mental games, interpretations or even your own personality. In the end, supposedly waste products are used to create unique, sustainably produced and handcrafted items.

© Stefanos Tsakiris / Zero Waste Lab

When hardship makes you inventive

While upcycling was mildly ridiculed a few years ago, the trend is becoming increasingly important nowadays: the new environmental awareness of our society ensures that the representatives of art and design also discover the potential of the movement. Especially young and contemporary designers process the idea of ​​sustainability in their work. According to the motto »need is inventive«, innovative, social and sustainable projects emerge that demonstrate the creative desire for climate protection and a change of values: Panos Sakkas and Fotaki Setaki from the Rotterdam-based design duo The New Raw directed a so-called Zero Waste Lab in Thessaloniki, their homeland in Greece. There, citizens can put shredded plastic waste into new shapes via a 3D printer and subsequently enrich the public space of the city with the new furniture. The first prototypes of benches, armchairs and plant troughs were realized last year. But the big goal of the two designers is to recycle four tons of plastic waste in the Zero Waste Lab.

While upcycling was mildly ridiculed a few years ago, the trend is becoming increasingly important nowadays: the new environmental awareness of our society ensures that the representatives of art and design also discover the potential of the movement.  ❝

Make good use of PET bottles

When it comes to recycling and upcycling disposable plastic, the debate always keeps brushing the issue of returnable bottles. Also designers worldwide seem to like the idea of reusing PET bottles. Californian outdoor manufacturer Patagonia, which has made a name for itself in recent years with numerous climate-friendly projects, is now launching a new range of bags made from 10 million recycled plastic bottles. The Black Hole Bag collection is part of a larger initiative by the company: The brand strives for 100% renewable and recycled raw materials and is working to save 20,000 tonnes of CO2 by using recycled products in just one year. The Mexican designer Paola Calzada shows with her series Luken Furniture, that recycled furniture is now far from the inconspicuous eco-image of recent years: the colorful spotted yet elegant tables and armchairs are formed from recycled plastic bottles – and are everything else as boring. Awareness of the responsible use of plastic waste has also reached IKEA: In 2017, the Swedish furniture giant launched the kitchen »Kungsbacka«, which also consists of recycled PET bottles. The best thing about it: the delicately shimmering anthracite-colored surfaces could just as well have come from a classy premium line.

Circular Economy: The new form of upcycling

The New Zealand label Okewa shows how sustainable and at the same time functional clothing works: Alerted by predicting that there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050, the young company created a raincoat collection made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. This keeps us dry and the oceans clean. The label ecoBirdy makes it possible to master the generation change in an elegant and environmentally conscious way. The nursery furniture is 100 percent made of – how could it be otherwise – used toys. While in conventional children’s toys a particularly high amount of plastic is used, the Belgian label recovers old toys without adding environmentally harmful substances such as resin or pigments. Another important term that is directly related to recycling is Circular Economy – the recycling of waste at its place of origin. How it works? The armchair »S-1500« by the Norwegian architect Snøhetta in cooperation with the furniture manufacturer Nordic Comfort Products, for example, consists of plastic waste and old fishing nets of local fishermen

How old smartphones become tableware

With ever-faster innovation cycles, technical products are becoming obsolete much easier and, therefore, a waste product faster and faster. This is not only problematic with regard to the life cycle assessment of the products, but at the same time makes it clear how simply high-quality materials are wasted today. Not so with Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin: The owners of the Amsterdam design studio Formafantasmaicht make it clear that not only old plastic objects can be plastically deformed and used a second time. The two designers have dedicated themselves to the recycling of electronic waste with the label Ore Streams. The combination of a basic frame made of iron and aluminum with high-tech components creates something completely new – a hybrid of futuristic science fiction and movie-like robot figures in Frankenstein form. Another example of innovative upcycling is Pentatonic, which transforms the glass of old smartphones into elegant tableware sets. And now one should say that there are still products that can not be recycled. At any rate, we haven’t discovered them yet.

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