How some designers are turning plastic scrap into a ‘precious material’

  • London Design Fair plastics showcase

    What do you do about a problem like plastic? If you’re the 2018 London Design Fair, you redeem the year’s “most loathed material”—their words, not mine—by highlighting the works of four designers who are turning scrap into objets d’art.

    “Truly the material of the modern world, plastic has proved revolutionary to the way in which we live, by allowing for lighter, thinner, more durable and at times more beautiful objects,” writes the show organizer, adding that the material also rings of “disposability and a throw-away consumer culture.” 

    Titled, "Material of the Year: Plastic, Beyond the Chipper," the showcase is one element of the London Design Fair at the Old Truman Brewery in East London on Sept. 20 to 23, 2018. That industry event is part of the larger London Design Festival, a sprawling affair held in venues throughout the city from Sept. 15 to 23.

    This slide show previews some of the inspired creations of the four designers who are “imbuing” repurposed scrap and plastic waste with “new worth and meaning.”

  • Charlotte Kidger

    London-based material designer Charlotte Kidger sources the raw materials—polyurethane and polystyrene foam—for her sculptures at a CNC fabrication company based in Telford, UK.

    Kidger harvests the polyurethane foam dust that is a byproduct of the CNC machining process and uses it to formulate a “durable and versatile composite material that has the capabilities to be cast in diverse 3D forms of various scales,” she writes on her website. “Through an applied and pragmatic approach, hands-on making allowed me to gain an immediate understanding of the material. I was able to push the boundaries of the material to therefore create an outcome that could be treated the same way as wood. With the ability (once cast) to be cut, sanded, engraved and put back into CNC, the finish possibilities are endless,” writes Kidger. 

  • Weez & Merl

    This dazzling creation from Weez & Merl has its origin in recycled low-density polyethylene (LDPE). The side plates were designed for the opening of Europe’s first zero-waste restaurant in Brighton, UK, in 2015.

    “Originally transferring skills learned from the craft of woodworking, we have found many methods of working by hand with recycled LDPE,” note the designers on their website. “Our ultimate goal is to make plastic a precious material,” they add.

  • Kodai Iwamoto

    The works of Tokyo-based designer Kodai Iwamoto attempt to answer a question that, he says, haunted him: What happens when an old manufacturing process meets cheap and mass-produced materials?

    Iwamoto takes plastic tubes closed at one end and blows warm air into them to soften them and give them new shapes. “As with glassblowing,” he explains on his website, “many factors such as the shape of the mold, air pressure and the speed of heating the pipe's surface affect the shape of an object. Even though it's a mass produced, cheap material, I believe that the hand-making process gives the pipe a new value by transforming it into a well-made object.”

  • Dirk Vander Kooij

    Dutch designer Dirk Vander Kooij has developed a low-resolution 3D-printing process to create furniture. He achieved international acclaim in 2010 with the Endless Chair (pictured), made of at least 96% recycled plastics. Somewhat cryptically, his website explains that he “taught a robot his new craft, drawing furniture out of one endlessly long plastic string.” The chair is in the permanent collections of a number of museums, including MoMA, and received the Dutch Design Award in 2011.

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