As I’m sure you know, plastic can be used for almost anything. It can imitate or innovate. Be used for obsolete stuff or extremely specific, complex parts in a greater system. At Precious Plastic what we designed would be available online to anyone in the world with an internet connection, which also meant it needed to add value and ultimately ‘sell’ anywhere in the world.
It is easy to be hyper-critical about every product designed for recycled material. It could be said that the best thing to make is nothing at all. We’ve seen that products have the tendency to become trash and find themselves in the natural world one way or another. These thoughts, shared by a team of designers from all corners, didn’t make it easy to think of a product that would be applicable in as many countries and context’s around the world. Our best bet was to 'sit down' and use the open nature of the project with a lot of back and forth discussions.
Using the forums we were able to send ideas into the community and get back more ideas and considerations. With this tool and the in-house design team we came up with a set of values for products designed as Precious Plastic. This made it slightly easier to frame our ideas and begin to tackle the ceaseless questions.
The points we thought were crucial for Precious Products were as follows:
1. Change the perception of recycled plastic to a valuable and versatile resource.
2. Engage with new audiences by building excitement around the material.
3. Produce with techniques that encourage local high quality output.
4. Embrace the unique qualities of the material.
5. Share accessible tools that enable the community to overcome challenges.
6. Explore the world of possibilities that the machines can offer.
7. Commit to circular economy principles and not contribute to other problems in the long term.
These values gave us something to consider for every design decision, but we first needed a concept on which to apply them. After many brainstorms, critiques and a fast approaching deadline I decided to tackle a bench. The idea was appealing because it could be used anywhere. Depending on the material and colour it could sit in a fancy private garden or a under a bridge. Due to the nature of a bench, it could also be heavy which meant more waste material would be used per piece. So began the process of figuring out exactly how it would be done. Exploratory sketching lead to the first wooden mockup which gave insight into the levels of comfort and areas of the most stress. After a few adjustments the first plastic prototype was made to get an idea of how the material would behave to the loads and means of joinery.
Using a newly developed technique where plastic was extruded into a mould with a 'corner' we could create the load bearing joints with the plastic itself as one solid piece. Angles, lengths and the thickness could easily be adjusted with the mould. This simplified the production and construction as well as making the most use of the plastic without any post-processing.
Plastic does have it’s downsides when in a long, solid beam form. It will creep and sag over time if not given extra support. Therefore traditional materials for the horizontal slats could be of great importance. Using wood for example will be far cheaper, faster to manipulate and will give the bench a stronger longer life, but it will be up to the makers to decide.
In January 2020 version 4 of the Precious Plastic movement was launched and the Bench was officially born. Designed to be applicable in any context and ‘cheap’ to produce for a workspace that has just begun. The simplicity and cost effectiveness lie in the mould as it has been fabricated with standard materials and using common tools. This combination means that multiple moulds can be made to speed up production and allow for easy repairs.