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Design Solutions for Single Use Plastics

My guilty conscious over single-use plastics started with the cases of bottled water, I used to stock in my household. After seeing horrific images of “plastic debris islands” floating in oceans, I switched to filtered refrigerator water that I carry around in my Yeti. In our throw-away culture, the plastics problem is hard to ignore and scary to think about its future ramifications for our planet.   

photo credit: Humanscale and Bureo

According to Earth Day 2018, 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans. By 2050, this could mean there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

Reducing plastics production and consumption is only part of the solution to the plastics problem. The other half of the solution deals with the question: What to do with all of this existing plastic refuse?  A growing design movement is using single-use plastic as a material for art and craft. At the forefront is a group of designers creating objects from recycled plastics as a longterm solution to the single-use plastic issue. 

“Plastic, Beyond the Chipper” exhibit at London Design Fair, 2018

Their work was showcased at London Design Fair, in an exhibit entitled “Plastic, Beyond the Chipper.” Designers: Dirk vander Kooij, Charlotte Kidger, Kodai Iwamoto and Weez & Merl treat gathered plastic waste as a virgin material, imbuing it with new worth and meaning.  Charlotte Kidger uses a zero-waste process in the making of durable sculptural objects.

Charlotte Kidger's Industrial Craft Collection is a material based project focused around utilizing plastic waste streams associated with CNC fabrication. Photo Credit: London Design Fair
Charlotte Kidger’s Industrial Craft Collection is a material based project focused around utilising plastic waste streams associated with CNC fabrication. Photo Credit: London Design Fair

Charlotte uses lightweight polyurethane foam dust, a by-product after the milling process left in abundant volumes. “Given that this material is still regarded as a niche plastic, it’s only means of disposal is through incineration or landfill. With a clear design opportunity I set out to find ways of utilizing and repurposing this undervalued and problematic material,” Charlotte says.

plastic blowing Kodai Iwamoto 6
Kodai Iwamoto creates flower vases from PVC pipes

Kodai Iwamoto creates flower vases from PVC pipe by applying air pressure into a closed PVC pipe, slowly warmed by a heater to make it soft so he can mold it. Kodai says his PVC Handblowing Project gives what was a mass produced and cheap material, a new value
by transforming it into a well-made object.

plastic blowing Kodai Iwamoto
PVC Handblowing Project by Kodai Iwamoto

Weez & Merl works with LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) found in carrier bags, bubble wrap and film packaging.  The designers say LDPE is easy to work with by hand and can be endlessly remelted and repurposed to create truly sustainable products. 

Weez Merl Sheet Material
Weez & Merl creates the plastic ‘dough’ that has been marbled and quickly compression moulded using a hydraulic press – the plastic flows easily into detail on moulds. It is then left to cool to retain its new shape

Dirk Vander Kooij uses reclaimed synthetics ranging from CDs to rooftop windows to make his objects. Dirk uses 3D printing to create his buitenhuis chandelier.

Dirk Vander Kooij showroom fresnel
Dirk Vander Kooij Studio

Each year, London Design Fair places the spotlight on a material currently holding precedence in the design world. With plastic as the focus for 2018, participating designers were selected who demonstrate how plastic is being repurposed in imaginative and valuable ways as a new virgin material in their creations. 

Bureo works with fisherman to salvage and repurpose discarded fishing nets

At the forefront of recycling ocean plastics into useful objects are is a group of designers and companies known as the NextWave initiative who are leveraging supply chains as a means of keeping plastics out of the ocean.

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Costa Sunglasses by Bureo made of recycled plastic fishing nets

Bureo joined forces with Costa Sunglasses to create The Untangled Collection. The sunglass frames are constructed from 100% recycled fishing nets and are fit with mineral glass lenses, avoiding the use of any new plastic materials and providing superior lens clarity and durability. The new line of responsible sunglasses features Costa’s patented 580 polarized lens technology in four new styles. 

Warehouse of salvaged plastic fishing nets from the ocean to be turned into pellets to create recycled plastic objects. photo credit: Humanscale and Bureo

Humanscale, another founding member of NextWave Initiative worked with Bureo to produce the Smart Ocean chair that incorporates almost 2 lbs. of recycled fishing net material (NetPlus).

Humanscale Smart Ocean 1
The Smart Ocean Chair made of recycled plastic fishing nets by Humanscale in partnership with Bureo

The nets are then transformed into plastic pellets and used to manufacture quality products such as skateboards, sunglasses, and now — for the first time ever — an ergonomic task chair.


 Humanscale was the first company in the world to receive the Living Product Challenge certification in September 2016. The certification recognizes like-minded companies sharing the mission to achieve a net positive impact with their products and production methods.

Screen Shot 2018 11 06 at 10.22.28 AM

Brands such as American Express are offering solutions to single-use plastics with innovative packing and products. Amex is creating the world’s first credit card made from upcycled marine plastic pollution. The global credit card company is partnering with Parley AIR to introduce the first credit card made primarily using Ocean Plastic. American Express’s first ocean plastic card is currently at prototype stage, but is expected to be available within 12 months.

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Photo credit: Earth Day 2018

The aim of the collaboration is to raise awareness and offer a solution to the growing marine plastic problem. Amex says it’s waging war on single-use plastics, committing to a number of waste-reduction strategies as well as reduced carbon emissions, switching to renewable energy, and aiming for zero-waste certification for its headquarters by 2025. 

As its answer to combating ocean plastic debris, cosmetics company Lush  launched a ‘naked’ line of products free from packaging, as part of a new campaign launched on World Oceans Day (June 8).  Lush says more than 40 percent of its products is completely packaging-free. The company’s ‘naked’ products aim to raise awareness of the effect of single-use plastic on ocean life and start a discussion on how consumers can tackle this global issue. 

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist ( that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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