Students turn plastic waste into lamps, subway seat covers


The skies might have temporarily cleared throughout the 2020 lockdowns, however single-use plastics have been reigning supreme. Bans on plastic baggage had been briefly revoked, eating places embraced takeaway (and plastic containers), and all these groceries we had delivered at dwelling got here wrapped in an inordinate quantity of packaging.

In London, 11 textile college students from the Royal Faculty of Artwork (RCA) had been just lately challenged to create new supplies out of single-use plastic waste. One scholar discovered a method to mildew expanded polystyrene (the spongy, cumbersome stuff your new pc monitor possible got here slotted in) into a tough floor that may very well be used on partitions. One other scholar unraveled plastic fruit nets and wove them into a mottled, onerous floor that may very well be used to cowl the seats of the London Underground.

The challenge, which took the form of a contest, was the results of a yearly collaboration between London-based industrial design agency PriestmanGoode, and the Royal Faculty of Artwork’s masters of arts in textiles program. The scholars’ work may be seen in an online exhibition as a part of the London Design Competition happening within the U.Ok. capital this month. Titled Valuable Waste, Single Use Plastics Re-born, it’s a reminder that the following era of designers can play an enormous position within the warfare in opposition to single-use plastics and local weather change extra broadly.

“There’s a huge growth when it comes to materialists cooking up new supplies of their kitchens, however I used to be fairly passionate to open up the scholars’ eyes and have a look at what sources they have already got,” says Maria Kafel-Bentkowska, who heads PriestmanGoode’s colour, materials, and end staff, and who briefed the scholars on the duty.


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Bethany Voak, Expanded Polystyrene [Photo: courtesy PriestmanGoode/Royal College of Art]

Bethany Voak’s profitable challenge reimagines the lifespan and potential use of expanded polystyrene (EPS)—a white foam plastic primarily utilized in packaging and insulation. To attain the extremely textured, onerous materials, Voak used an natural combination (the precise method stays a secret) to create a chemical response with the plastic, turning it into a moldable consistency. She then used pure pigments like beetroot powder to dye the newly fashioned floor.

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Bethany Voak, Expanded Polystyrene [Photo: courtesy PriestmanGoode/Royal College of Art]

Voak’s work turns an undesirable and underrated waste materials into an esthetically pleasing resolution, however it additionally shines a lightweight on the U.Ok.’s recycling system. The reality is, EPS is 100% recyclable, however an absence of standardization means it isn’t generally recycled within the U.Ok.

Voak wasn’t the one one to turn to EPS. Lianyi Chen discovered a method to course of the fabric into filaments that she used for 3D printing. And Yuke Liu used expanded polyethylene foam—some of the extensively used plastics in manufacturing and with related properties to EPS—to create a group of portray instruments like brushes and stamper markers. These may very well be utilized in museums, workshops and at dwelling, all whereas educating children in regards to the harm attributable to plastics.

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Yuke Liu, Tracing [Photo: courtesy PriestmanGoode/Royal College of Art]

The proposition right here is straightforward: single-use plastics don’t have to finish up in a landfill. To actually make a change, in fact, massive firms must cease manufacturing plastic within the first place. However till this occurs, and till we discover methods to recycle these plastics in a standardized means, there are myriad inventive methods to offer them a second life.

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Yuke Liu, Tracing [Photo: courtesy PriestmanGoode/Royal College of Art]

Kafel-Bentkowska explains that the transient known as for such inventive options but additionally fabrication processes that use little to no power. This was a vital requirement as a result of the scholars labored on the tasks in lockdown, with no entry to the RCA’s workshop amenities. “We had been asking them to reinvent and reuse these plastics, however we didn’t need them to start out melting and making a lab inside their kitchens,” she says. “We wished them to consider low power methods of recreating supplies.”

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Henrietta Dent, Recrafting Worth [Photo: courtesy PriestmanGoode/Royal College of Art]

Henrietta Dent’s challenge is an ideal instance of this strategy. She used polypropylene and polyethylene nets, each of that are used to wrap fruit and veggies in supermarkets around the globe. She detangled the nets and created a wholly new materials that’s stronger and extra sturdy by advantage of its woven nature—with nothing however her fingers (and a bit bit of warmth).


The exhibition is a celebration of recycled plastic in its colourful, textured glory—and its potential as a viable new materials. In some ways, it’s additionally an pressing reminder that the recycling business wants a serious overhaul. “With numerous these plastics, we’re misinformed that they’re recyclables,” says Kafel-Bentkowska, “however commercially, it’s troublesome.”