As part of its declaration to eliminate waste that is neither recycled nor composted by 2020, San Francisco became the first city in America to ban the sale of small, plastic water bottles on public property. Over the next four years, the city authorities will install drinking fountains instead and compostable cups will be handed out at large gatherings.
Due to its durability and widespread use, the environmental impacts of plastic are considerable. Plastic doesn’t deteriorate. It just breaks down into ever-smaller parts, most of it being invisible to our eyes. As well as ending up in landfill, some is trapped in Arctic ice, some sinks to the sea bed and some rests on beaches. Research published in the journal Science showed that between 5 and 12 million tonnes of plastics enter our oceans every year. They are eaten by animals and found in every species of fish. We don’t know yet what effect this might be having on humans.
Theoretically at least, plastics could be kept from the waste stream. The ability for it to be recycled for reuse and the rates of recycling are on the increase in many countries. This is due largely to the success of kerbside collection services that request minimal sorting. But as larger recycling bins were provided, people began to include more of the wrong materials, which requires additional, and costly, sorting services.
Falling oil prices and a weakened economy in China (the top destination for waste) have sent prices for recyclables plummeting worldwide. So what might designers do to stimulate better recycling behaviours and create more demand for recycled plastics? There are a number of ways in which this can be handled.
Some suppliers of products have set out specifically to provide solutions in this area. For example, based in the US, SelecTech was founded with the mission of creating valuable products from scrap plastics. The company supplies various types of flooring for commercial and domestic use with up to 70 per cent recycled content. Also, their interlocking design eliminates the need for adhesives during installation.
Other already-established flooring companies, like Forbo, have evolved to incorporate plastic waste materials into their manufacturing. For example, Forbo’s Coral range of commercial entrance flooring has backing made from recycled PET bottles and uses Econyl®, a high-quality yarn made from 100 per cent regenerated polyamide.
Using a rotomoulding production technique, he worked with plastic waste obtained from electronic devices, toys, drink trays and stadium seats. The waste materials are transformed into beautiful and durable pieces that have their own ‘irregular polygon’ aesthetic.There is also a range of options when it comes to furniture. These vary from eco-chic feature pieces to ranges that embed their environmental credentials to the extent that only those who read the spec sheets would ever know. Rodrigo Alonso designed a range of seating for Fahneu, an urban equipment company in Santiago, Chile.
Alternatively, the more widely known Eames moulded plastic chairs sold by Herman Miller, contain just under 20 per cent recycled plastic content as standard. This is part of the company’s Design for Environment protocols. So whilst the chairs may be purchased more often for their timeless design style, Herman Miller is another company that has adapted to integrate sustainable design practices into its highly successful global business.
And lastly, the creation of recycling systems is also given design attention so that office spaces and homes do not need to tolerate recycling bins that look like they were created by your public authority. Designworks, a BMW Group company offering strategic design services for innovation, was the partner of choice to create the stylish Ecopod. It was the winner of an iF design award; aluminium cans and plastic bottles are placed into the top, and if someone steps on the ‘easy-step compaction system’ it can store 50 or more containers.
The company also provides an online ‘redemption calculator’ to confirm how much energy your recycling saves or how many dollars your recycling is worth. And if all designers specified recycled plastic in their furnishings, floorings and interior products as standard practice – that dollar value would go up.