7 innovations in honour of #plasticfreejuly
One of the easiest ways to help the environment is to focus on what kinds of plastic we use, how we use them, and what we do to clean up the plastic already polluting the earth. Plastic Free July is a global movement that encourages people to refuse to use single-use plastic, helping them to become part of the solution.
Innovations focusing on plastic waste are one of the most popular things we cover here at Springwise. In honour of #plasticfreejuly, we have curated 7 of our best.
1. CUTTING BOARDS MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC BOTTLE CAPS
Matt and Jonny, the UK-based siblings and content creators of Brothers Make, have designed an upcycled cutting board made from used plastic bottle tops. Matt, a design and technology secondary school teacher, and Jonny, a senior account manager at a marketing firm, started making things together in 2018 as a way of spending more quality time together which eventually led to launching a YouTube channel.
After gaining traction, the brothers opened an online store selling products made using 100 per cent recycled waste plastic. The shop sells a variety of things, ranging from plant pots, coasters and coffee caddies to buttons, Māori Pendants and guitar picks.
To ensure the chopping boards comply with safety standards, the brothers say that all the plastic that they receive is hand-sorted to ensure it is food-grade HDPE plastic and that there are no non-plastic contaminants left on the plastic. They then run the plastic through three sorting and cleaning cycles before being heated. They also said that they keep the heating process at around 140-160 degrees so that no fumes are introduced to the plastic or burning occurs.
2. UMBRELLAS DESTINED FOR LANDFILL TURNED INTO BEAUTIFUL HOME FURNISHINGS
Anti is a new design company created with a singular purpose. Every product that the business builds is upcycled from an item that is rarely, if ever, recycled. The first collection is a series of desk and table lamps made from discarded umbrellas. With more than one billion umbrellas thrown away worldwide each year, the volume of available material is vast.
One of the main reasons that umbrellas are so wasteful is that they are not built to last. As part of the throwaway culture that simply replaces rather than repairs items, hundreds of thousands of pounds of metal, plastic and nylon are wasted annually through the incineration or dumping of umbrellas as rubbish.
The team dissembles each umbrella into its separate materials. Plastic pieces are either reused as is or melted down for 3D printing into new shapes. The final designs echo the original shapes of the umbrellas yet are far stronger and are built to be repaired and used for many years. If a customer wants to discard a lamp, the company runs a take-back scheme that reintegrates the returned item back into the circular design process.
3. PACKAGING WASTE TURNED INTO VEGAN LEATHER
With patent-pending technology, Israeli startup Remeant converts single-use plastics into sustainable vegan leathers. Each textile is unique, produced as it is from a particular set of waste products. The finishes on the leather-like pieces range from marbled and bubble wrap, to crinkly, shiny aluminium.
The technology is capable of upcycling some of the most difficult to reuse waste plastics, including bubble wrap, and the durable fabrics are lightweight, waterproof and washable. The team customises colours for clients, and as well as the innovative process for Remeant, is already at work on other upcycling ideas. Remeant was four years in the making, and the textiles are able to be used for everything from leather upholstery projects to handbags, shoes, clothing and interior decorating.
Plastic pollution isn’t the only waste product Springwise has spotted being used in exciting new ways. From coffee husks turned into construction materials to 3D printing a wood composite made from sawdust, everyday items are becoming ever closer to being carbon neutral. Thus, consumers looking for the next big thing will already be considering carbon-negative options.
4. NOVEL WOOD DECKING MADE FROM PLASTIC BAGS
Wood decking is beautiful and versatile, but not very sustainable. However, a Virginia-based company has developed a way to make ‘wooden’ decking almost entirely from waste products. The company turns reclaimed sawdust and plastic bags into composite deck boards and is now one of the largest plastic bag recyclers in the US.
Trex’s process is green from start to finish. Its proprietary processing method first cleans plastic film and grinds it into granules. These are then combined with sawdust reclaimed from factories, and the mixture is heated to give it a soft, pliable consistency. Profile dies are used to form the mixture into boards, which are cooled and cut to the desired length.
A standard, 16-foot board will use around 2,250 plastic bags, most of them the hard-to-recycle, thin-film type that is often used as sandwich bags, overwrap on kitchen rolls and as newspaper sleeves. To source the plastic, the company has set up its own nationwide recycling programme, with drop off points outside stores and in local communities and schools. Trex will also pay businesses that generate a lot of plastic waste to take the waste off their hands.
5. CRUELTY-FREE DEODORANTS MADE FROM OCEAN PLASTIC
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, between eight to 10 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. Innovative companies are trying to do something about this by repurposing ocean plastic into new products. One of those taking this route is Sarah Ribner’s company PiperWai, which is making a line of natural deodorants, designed to work on all skin types.
Instead of packaging its products in plastic or glass, PiperWai uses containers made from recycled ocean plastic. The containers are made by a non-profit that pays fishing boats to collect ocean waste instead of fish. The plastic is then cleaned and processed into new packaging, and the company also relies on solar energy for its operations. This is all fitting for a deodorant that is certified vegan, cruelty-free, and doesn’t contain pollutants or toxic ingredients that harm the environment or people.
According to Ribner, the move away from virgin plastics was spurred on by many of her customers, who wrote in to ask when the brand would switch to more sustainable packaging. Ribner credits this to an increase in the amount of information that is available now about the climate crisis, saying that “…now, we have more access to information through social media and there’s more attention on the fact that the climate crisis is one of the biggest that we’re going to face.”
6. KENYAN STARTUP RECYCLES PLASTIC INTO BRICKS STRONGER THAN CONCRETE
Tired of waiting for the government to come up with solutions to the plastic pollution problem in Kenya, Nzambi Matee decided to take matters into her own hands. The entrepreneur set up a factory, named Gjenge Makers, that recycles plastic waste into bricks stronger than concrete. The Nairobi-based factory has developed a prototype machine that is able to produce 1,500 bricks each day, made from a mix of different kinds of plastics.
Matee collects the waste material from packaging factories for free and pays for the plastic from other recyclers. Working with a combination of high-density polyethylene used in milk and shampoo bottles, low-density polyethylene found in sandwich and cereal bags, and polypropylene used in ropes and buckets, the machine first churns the plastic waste with sand, then heats it and finally compresses it to form bricks.
Although Matee does stay away from PET, which is found most commonly in plastic bottles, Gjenge Makers has managed to recycle more than 20 tonnes of plastic waste into paving bricks since 2017, all of which come in an array of colours. Matee also plans to add a bigger production line that could triple capacity and hopes to break even by the end of this year.
7. UPCYCLED PLASTIC WASTE TURNED INTO STYLISH PUBLIC FURNITURE
An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic contaminate the world’s oceans every year, adding to the 180 million tonnes that are already there. Ninety per cent of the plastic enters the oceans via rivers, including the Shin Mun River in Sha Tin, Hong Kong. In an attempt to alleviate this problem, two designers from Hong Kong-based HIR studio have created a collection of twelve benches. Looking to the Shin Mun River for inspiration, Howard Chung and Irene Cheng collected single-use plastic waste and upcycled them into stylish pieces of public furniture. The pair found that due to the lack of recycling bins and collection points, only thirteen per cent of Hong Kong’s plastics are repurposed, and plastics are often being downcycled into rubbish bags or containers, therefore only extending them by one lifecycle.
Chung and Cheng tracked down a supply of recyclable HDPE plastics, with the help of NGOs Waste No Mall and the Sha Tin Recycling Centre, which collects from public housing estates and green stations every week. The process of designing the benches involved taking 20,000 items of salvaged plastic, weighing roughly half a tonne and mixing them with virgin plastic to ensure that the furniture was strong enough to withstand plastic use. As they found that there were still too many impurities in the composition from the recycling factories in Hong Kong, the pair turned to a factory in Foshan in southern China to produce the benches. There, the Sha Tin plastic was first shredded, then melted and then squeezed from a gigantic pipe, before being pulverised into pellets and set in moulds.
Written By: Holly Hamilton
16th July 2021