Our toxic love affair with plastic

This positive vibe is in evidence at the Stedelijk’s exhibition which, in addition to experimental products and projects, is exhibiting items already on the market to highlight the role individuals can play in tackling the crisis via their purchasing choices. “We can talk about really big industry and what we have to change, but for us it was also important that visitors and consumers can think about what small changes they can make,” says curator Amanda Pinatih.

Many of the products on view make thoughtful and inventive use of recycled plastics. The Ocean Bottle is not only made out of recycled plastic bottles recovered from the sea, its sale also funds the collection of more bottles by local people in coastal areas. Aiming to tackle environmental awareness at an early age, the ecoBirdy range of chairs and tables for children are made out of recycled toys, which are still recognisable in the new products. Furniture for adults also tackles the problem, such as the Tip Ton RE chair by Vitra, which is made from polypropylene produced from household waste, and can be fully recycled at the end of its life. 

The bigger the manufacturer, the bigger the impact. Ikea uses recycled PET plastic in everything from cushion stuffing to a simple series of storage boxes that the museum is displaying. “They know they haven’t been great for the environment but they also know they have a really big platform – so they know that if they change, it can really make a difference,” says Pinatih. Likewise, Adidas is aiming to make trainers as sustainable as possible with its Made to be Remade line. The trainers can be returned to the shop when they are worn out, and then shredded in order to provide material for the next batch of footwear. 

Designers are also increasingly making use of alternatives to widely-used plastics. A surfboard by Studio Bart Vernooij is made from flax fibre and bio-based epoxy instead of the usual toxic fibreglass and synthetic resins, while Biotrem makes disposable tableware as environmentally friendly as it can possibly be. Created from pressed wheat bran and water, 10,000 fully compostable items can be produced from a single ton of wheat.

Many designers are also turning to historic techniques in order to provide sustainable goods for the future. Martijn Straatman has been exploring the potential of manure, once commonly used in the construction of buildings, to create environmentally-friendly interior products, and the museum is displaying one of his stools. Pinatih dismisses fears that such material could be off-putting. “It’s a really fun design, and at least here in the Netherlands people try to find humour in things a lot – it’s a real conversation starter,” she says.

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