Eco-designers creating a new story for plastics
THE love affair between plastics and design is nothing new. From their first appearance, designers started playing with them, happy to have found new materials that could keep up with all their creative fancies. That love affair shows no signs of fading, and eco-designers are now creating a new story for plastics.
At a time when protecting the environment is no longer simply a topic of discussion but has become a grassroots movement, many designers are focusing their efforts fully on the environmental impact of their creations. The idea today is to create differently: optimal use of resources, recyclability of products, integration of recycled materials, upcycling and eco-design is becoming second nature in all areas of industry.
Re-using used bottles to make a stained-glass wall in a shopping mall, as seen here in Thailand, is a perfect example of upcycling.
The popularity of the most ephemeral materials, often associated with fast fashion and packaging, is currently waning. The aim is to make objects last as long as possible and to ensure that all materials, whatever they may be, can be re-used or recycled. This translates into a much more streamlined style and the use of monomaterials to avoid, for example, a fake gemstone stuck on an ABS plate making the object aesthetically obsolete the day it comes off. This is a first step towards eco-design, but it is not the most decisive.
Designers love the bottle
Recycling marine waste, especially fishing nets, which are usually made of polyamide, is one of the major trends of the moment, at least in the clothing industry. Many start-ups are now proposing solutions to recycle them into a new fibre that is easy to weave and thus to use when designing new clothing.
For Adidas, this approach has even become a leitmotif, as its global ambitions are so high. For example, it did not hesitate to modify its iconic Stan Smiths (sneakers inspired by the world of tennis and bestsellers for over 50 years). Since March 2021, this shoe model contains 50% recycled polyester. The environmental impact is far from neutral as this sneaker is sold by the tens of thousands worldwide. The German brand hopes to reach 100% recycled polyester by 2024.
It also sells a pair of fully recyclable running shoes which must be returned to the manufacturer once they reach the end of their life. The polymer fibres are then recycled and used to manufacture new sports goods. And for those who still have doubts about the technical qualities of such models, this shoe has enabled athletes to break records in the half marathon.
Recycled plastics are swimming in luxury
For a few years now, Italian company Napapijri has been selling a jacket made from a blend of virgin and recycled polyamide, which is also completely recyclable. To ensure that the jacket is easily recyclable, the brand designed it using a single material: polyamide. At the end of its life, the fibres are recycled using a process that preserves their original properties and quality. Like Adidas, Napapijri has set up a collection system to recover used jackets. Here again, the circle is complete!
Sometimes recycled plastics appear where you least expect them. Recently, Tom Ford, the designer and former artistic director of the prestigious Gucci fashion house, made a big splash when he launched a high-end watch under his name, made from 100% recycled plastics – marine plastic waste, in particular, bottles. To understand the designer’s audacity, it is important to understand that such an association was totally unthinkable barely a decade ago.
He claims that it takes 35 bottles to make one watch. He has even taken it a step further, as his watch’s packaging is made exclusively of various polymers also recovered from the sea. Finally, the strap is made of recycled nylon (polyamide) fibres recovered from the ocean that are then hand-woven.
Furniture: recycled plastics now welcome
Awareness is also growing in the decoration and furniture sector. Even internationally-renowned designers such as Philippe Starck are getting involved. Starck has developed a chair called I.E. made entirely from a recycled polymer in collaboration with Kartell, one of Italy’s leading design brands, which has been specialising in the manufacture of plastic objects for over 70 years. Which polymer was used? Kartell is keeping it a secret. All we know is that it comes from manufacturing scraps. Another original feature specific to this chair, and this explains its name, is that it was designed by an artificial intelligence that was able to answer the designer’s questions. The idea is to offer a beautiful, solid, ergonomic product manufactured using a minimum of energy and materials.
Which plastics for tomorrow’s design?
Finding new resources is also a priority for many designers. Their aim is not to get rid of polymers, which they often consider unrivalled in letting their imaginations run wild, but rather to find new ones made from non-petroleum-based raw materials. Biosourced plastics are a possible avenue but not a simple one to explore.
- First published in Plastics le Mag, plastics-themag.com