Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Sustainable design in plastics

Each year the AUB runs a programme of events under the auspice of AUB Human. AUB Human brings together award winning industry professionals, students and academics for a series of workshops, talks, exhibitions, and the one-day symposium. This year’s theme, New Narratives, will envision a future that questions current practice, and proposes new ways of thinking, doing and making in order to achieve a sustainable, adaptive and regenerative society.  

MoDiP has responded to this initiative through:
  • Last week’s blog post, which looked at the idea of sustainable design and asked questions of our design community at the AUB. 
  • New narratives in plastics exhibition, which explores the theme by looking at sustainable, adaptive and regenerative design in plastics. 
  • Pages on our website, which look at sustainable design in plastics

Exhibition – New Narratives in plastics


The New narratives in plastics exhibition highlights some of the ways in which designers have addressed the issues of sustainability, adaptability and regenerative design.


Sustainable design aims to cause little or no damage to the environment. The concept suggests a predisposition against disposability and encourages responsible and thoughtful consumption. 

The Animo range of children’s beach toys is made from eco-friendly Biobu®, a highly-renewable material made from bamboo sawdust, the waste product from a chopstick factory, and a food-safe melamine binder. The set comprises a whale scoop, a manta ray shovel, a turtle sifter and a pelican bucket. They have been carefully designed to appeal to both children and their parents as an investment to be used and reused.
 
RubyMoon rash guard, AIBDC : 008185

The recycled polyamide (PA or nylon) in the RubyMoon Rash Guard is a material called Econyl®. Econyl® is made from used fishing nets and other regenerated material, and RubyMoon is a partner of healthyseas.org who collect drifting or ‘ghost’ nets. The swimwear has been designed in keeping with the principles of slow fashion, focusing on the look, construction and fit of a garment to create long-lasting clothing. 100% of the net profit made by the company is lent out to women across 11 different countries to help in launching their businesses, generating an income for them and their family to find a path out of poverty.

Adaptive design can be defined as the ability to adjust, fit, modify or alter working practices to suit differing conditions. All of the objects in this case have adapted in response to specific challenges.


Garçon Wines bottle, AIBDC : 008071

The multi award-winning slimline bottle designed by Garçon Wines retains the look of glass but is made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The strength and durability of this material enables the delivery of wine through the letter box and because the bottle is lightweight and spatially efficient, it generates lower carbon emissions in transportation. This improved version has a polypropylene cap and collar with a cap insert made from polyethylene so it is 100% recyclable.

The Collective pot lid, AIBDC : 008198

The Collective has been the first food and drink company to introduce black plastic packaging that can be detected by recycling machinery. Black plastic is fully recyclable but the machinery used to sort plastics in recycling plants have so far been unable to detect the carbon black pigment. As a result, this type of packaging often ends up in landfill or incineration. By working with leading recycling expert Nextek and additive/masterbatch specialist Colour Tone, the company has developed an alternative black dye that can be ‘seen’ by the near-infrared differentiation used in sorting plastics. 

Jar Tops, AIBDC : 005916

The Jar Tops, designed by Jorre van Ast for Dutch kitchenware manufacturers Royal VKB, enable glass jars to be reused instead of being sent for recycling once the original contents have been consumed. The set of interchangeable, functional screw caps can adapt empty jam jars into new containers, jugs and shakers, adding both practical and emotional value to generic glass packaging. The product has won the Design Plus award, the Erkenning Goed Industrieel Ontwerp award and the Dutch Design Award. The objects below are both part of the regenerative design culture; the first through the adoption of a circular design model and the second through the upcycling of unwanted materials.

Bird headphones, AIBDC : 008193

Gerrard Street founders, Dorus Galama and Tom Leenders, have produced a modular headphone with parts that can be easily replaced and upgraded. Offered through a subscription service, the headphones are designed to be sent through the post for easy assembly at home. As individual parts get worn or broken, customers can return the obsolete components for replacement, free of charge, with 85% of this e-waste being either reused or recycled. Any pairs returned at the end of a contract are also refurbished, including those on display here. By only ever renting out their product, the company can retain full control over the materials it uses. 

Airpaq bag, AIBDC : 008171

The Airpaq is made from upcycled car seatbelts and airbags, all sourced from ten different scrap yards in Germany. The parts are not sourced from any vehicle involved in a crash and are all anti-bacterially washed at high temperature and/or disinfected before being repurposed in Romania. The inspiration for the prototype, designed by Michael Widmann and Adrian Goosses, came from an assignment on the Strategic Entrepreneurship Master programme in Rotterdam in 2015. Through a crowdfunding campaign the bag was further developed and subsequently the company launched their first collection at Innatex, an international trade fair for sustainable textiles, in August 2018. 

Web pages – Sustainable design in plastics

The sustainable design in plastics pages on MoDiP’s website look at the history of green design and how objects can be part of a circular economy. These pages will be added to over time as new sustainable objects enter the MoDiP collection.

Sustainable design has its origins in the green movement of the 1970s fuelled particularly by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Actions at this conference included the calling upon Governments ‘to exert common efforts for the preservation and improvement of the human environment’.

The term sustainable design has replaced eco design which superseded green design as a concept. This is reflective of sustainability being more than simply environmentally conscious; sustainability focusses on working within the capacities of a system and is synonymous with the idea of circular economy. A circular economy is sustainable because it set out to reduce waste and pollution by keeping products, materials and resources efficiently in use.

Sustainable designed products might:

  • Be easily recycled
  • Make use of recycled materials, including ocean plastics
  • Be upcycled from products that have come to the end of their intended usefulness
  • Use renewable feedstocks Use biodegradable materials
  • Promote reuse
  • Help to reduce waste

Sustainable design in plastics needs to be accompanied by the sustainable use of plastics by consumers. This relates to the understanding of the value of the material and as such reusing when appropriate, recycling where possible, and disposing of things responsibly.

Louise Dennis 

Curator of MoDiP

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