The main character
Plastic is a completely peaceful material invented at the end of the 19th century. It quickly became indispensable in many areas of the industry - from defense to medical. In the middle of the 20th century, designers fell in love with plastic. Bright and easy to process, it allowed creating new forms that were previously unimaginable and realizing the wildest fantasies. Amazing qualities, including lightness and water resistance, have made it the most important packaging material. But before we could blink an eye, he turned from a great blessing into a monster threatening the planet.
All plastic that is not properly disposed of is highly toxic. Rossana Orlandi, owner of the famous Milan design gallery Spazio Rossana Orlandi and most recently an official fighter against the problem of plastic pollution, writes in her letter to designers: “Since the invention, more than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced in the world, of which more than 50% has been discarded or burned. These numbers are constantly growing: more than 322 million tons of material are produced every year."
M Stools, Design by Thing Thing, PlasticScene Project, London, 2018 © Press Office
Awesome numbers are published by The Guardian: if you put 480 billion plastic bottles produced in the world in 2016 alone, in one line, then its length will be half the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Finally, according to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to inspiring humanity to rethink, redesign, and build a positive future in a circular economy, 5-13 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, and by 2050 there will be contain more plastic than fish.
Guilty without guilt
True, it hurts the eyes, the culprit was found, but this is not enough to save humanity from a catastrophe. “Plastic itself is not to blame, the problem is how we use it,” says Rossana Orlandi. - We are part of the problem and must find a way to solve it. We need to stop thinking about plastic pollution as a problem for the future, and start doing something now.” In her opinion, plastic can become a resource full of possibilities. We need to understand the impact design can have on solving a designated problem, and use its full potential for this.
Bookshelf, Soft Baroque Design, PlasticScene Project, London, 2018 © Press Office
What does the design have to do with it
Inexpensive plastic design items are often short-lived, which only encourages thoughtless consumption. “The desire for new things has replaced our attachment to them,” notes Orlandi. Designers, she says, must develop polymers that dissolve or be recycled easily and without harm to nature.
Architect Lance Howsey raises another question in his research when talking about recycling. Responsible design, in his opinion, is often too fixated on the very idea of "responsibility" and overlooks such an important thing as aesthetics.
Indeed, much of what is born within the framework of the eco-approach looks rather dull. This has led to the fact that in the minds of people "responsible design" and "good design" have become two polar concepts. “The terrible truth about sustainable design is that much of it is just ugly,” sums up the architect. Experts agree on one thing: green, functional and beautiful items at the same time are the best way to change consumer attitudes and prevent disaster.
1 of 2 Exhibition of the results of the Guiltless Plastic competition organized by Spazio Rossana Orlandi, Milan, April 2019 © press service © press service
Ecodesign advocates are not overlooked. Leading international furniture and design exhibitions in Milan, Stockholm and London show that large manufacturers have entered the process.
In Stockholm in February, NCP demonstrated the S-1500 chair, made by Studio Snøhetta from worn-out fishing tackle that had previously ended up in landfills in Sweden. And during Milan's Salone del Mobile, Emeco, renowned for the fact that all its products are made from recycled materials, showcased new On & On chairs by design duo Barber & Osgerby. The plastic they are made of is endlessly recyclable. The manufacturer also reported on the continuation of its cooperation with Coca-Cola - each plastic bar stool from the 111 Navy line is made from 150 bottles of Coca-Cola.
Major cultural institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London are supporting the fight against plastic in their own way. During the London Design Festival 2018, a drinking water fountain was installed in the courtyard of the museum. Michael Anastassiadis' A Fountain For London project called for a return to the urban environment and for the elimination of disposable plastic bottles.
Drinking water fountain, A Fountain for London, designed by Michael Anastassiadis. In the courtyard of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London Design Festival, September 2018 © Press Office
Museum La Triennale di Milano from March to September this year is holding the Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival exhibition, in which Lego presented the details of the eco-polyethylene construction set. It is made using ethanol, which in turn is derived from sugar cane. By 2030, the company plans to completely switch to the production of products and packaging from biodegradable materials.
At the London Design Fair in September last year, plastic was honorably named the main material of the exhibition. To the exhibition Plastic. Beyond the Chipper features items made from recycled plastic. The exhibition was aimed at proving that things made of this material can be truly beautiful. Here, in particular, on display were Charlotte Kieger's vases and stools made of compressed polyurethane dust and a round shelf with wooden shelves and a transparent plastic case by Dirk van der Koy.
Collectible design galleries keep up with the general trend, including the already mentioned Spazio Rossana Orlandi with the Plastic Master's Pieces exhibition just closed in Milan. It featured works of art and design made from recycled plastic.
Wilhelm lamp, design by Tiziano Woodafieri, Plastic Master's Pieces Exhibition, Milan, April 2019 © Press Office
To prevent sustainable design from becoming another fashion trend, which will soon give way to some other trend, we as consumers need to learn to perceive the world in a new way, change our consumer habits and attitude towards materials. Although the same Lance Howsey believes that eco-responsibility is not a trend, but a category related to ethics, and it will never go out of style. As Senegalese ecologist Baba Dium rightly said at a meeting of the UN General Assembly, “in the end we will only preserve what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will only understand what we are taught.”>