Recycled plastic is fantastic

Recycled plastic is fantastic

We are making progress when it comes to recycling plastics, with more designers using recycled plastic to make attractive products for home and garden, says Kay Hill.

Tangier range from Weaver Green is made from recycled PET plastic

There are many types of plastic and they can't all be recycled together - hence recycled plastic furniture and homewares are still far from ubiquitous. But more waste plastic is being incorporated into quality products - for example, Trex decking from the US (and available in the UK) is made from 95 per cent waste materials, notably recycled plastic bags and wood waste, while Australian brand Woven Image made lots of great interiors products using PET plastic, 60 per cent of which is recycled. Pictured above: Weaver Green offers rugs, cushions and throws made in India from fibres spun from post-consumer recycled PET plastic bottles

Recycled plastic has been in the news recently – but for all the wrong reasons. It seems that despite most people’s best efforts to sort their recycling, a depressing 100,000 tonnes of plastic that should be recycled ends up dumped in landfill each year.
 
The problem is that 'plastic' is really many different kinds of largely incompatible materials – for example, a lemonade bottle is PET (polyethylene terephthalate) while a supermarket milk bottle is LDPE (low-density polyethylene), film wrap is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) while milk bottle caps and yogurt pots are polypropylene. Some councils collect all of them, some only a few types, hence the confusion felt even by some members of the Government.
 
Lots of us are familiar with PET plastic products - drinks bottles are easily recycled. However, PVC is more difficult to recycle, although VinylPlus, the European PVC industry's voluntary sustainable development programme, says the EU is doing well, recycling more than 360,000 tonnes of PVC in 2012. And that puts it on track to recycle 800,000 tonnes by 2020.
 
According to the British Plastics Federation, 24 per cent of the plastic used in Britain each year is recycled; but that leaves 3.8 million tonnes a year still being sent to landfill. 'We are missing a huge opportunity as a society to reprocess plastics into useful and environmentally friendly products,' says London interior designer Paul Warren. 'It’s a valuable resource being wasted – plastic is made from oil and we are happily throwing billions of gallons of oil into landfill in the form of this waste plastic.'
 
Platoon screen/room divider made from 100 per cent PET plastic, 60 per cent of which is recycled, made by Woven Image. www.wovenimage.com
Trex decking is a US brand widely available in the UK. It makes products using 95 per cent recycled wood waste and plastic bags
Kitchen worktop and splash back in Alba, fully recycled plastic material from Smile Plastics. www.smile-plastics.co.uk
Tuiss Index White Sand roller blind made from a fabric itself made from recycled plastic bottles. www.tuiss.co.uk
Durat from Finland is a solid surface material that contains recycled plastic waste. Durat will recycle the material too if it's returned to them
Luminati has magazine racks made from Greencast 100 per cent recycled acrylic, £28
PVC vinyl floors from brands such as Amtico are recyclable and Amtico products contain post-consumer recycled content. www.amtico.com
In the past, recycled plastic has largely been at the utilitarian end of the market – fleece jackets for police officers made from plastic bottles and public seating from recycled bottle tops, for example. However, manufacturers are now tapping into its potential as a material for decorative products, such as wall cladding, tabletops and textiles.
 
At first glance, panels produced by Smile Plastics look like stone or terrazzo. But they are, in fact, made from 100 per cent recycled plastics, though they can be used like stone and should prove as durable - indeed marble, for example, is porous and solid plastic is not. The cladding is lighter, cheaper and more environmentally sound than a natural stone and can be cut and worked as easily as a piece of wood. It has a natural variation to it that mimics an organic material, but it is made from shredded industrial foodstuff containers, old underground utility pipes and factory scrap. The material is waterproof and chemical resistant - although it would melt in contact with direct heat so you can't put hot pots straight from the oven on it. In other words, but some trivets! 
 
As well as the obvious applications of worktops and claddings, furniture manufacturers are using recycled plastic to create a wide range of interior pieces, from table tops and chairs with bent plastic seating, through to lampshades and magazine racks. 'The idea of using recycled plastic is that it makes people think about the waste they produce and their environmental impact,' says Cornish furniture designer Aaron Moore. 'Some people think you shouldn’t use plastic at all, but it seems much better to me to make good use of it by recycling it rather then it end up in landfill.'
 

 

New from Cornwall's A Short Walk, recycled plastic planters, from £11.95 www.ashortwalk.com
pOrOus chairs by Miso Soup Design is made from stiffened polyester made from recycled fizzy drinks bottles. www.misosoupdesign.com
100 per cent recycled plastic planters from Reformed Plastic www.reformedplastic.co.uk
Australian designers DesignByThem launched the recycled plastic Butter chair last year. It's made from HDPE plastic, mainly waste milk cartons and factory waste
Husk chair from B&B Italia has a shell made from recycled plastic. Available at Barker & Stonehouse. POA
III Navy Chair from US company Emeco, 100 per cent recycled plastic, £348 www.madeindesign.co.uk
Moore has been working with recycled plastic for well over a decade and one of his largest projects was to design chairs for the Eden Project in Cornwall made from plastic cups from its café. They were turned into sheet material by Smile Plastics, with the logo still clearly visible. 'I try to design stuff that has some kind of eco agenda and recycled plastic is an interesting material to work with,' he says. Moore says he sources most of his recycled plastic, though, from Kedel, a Lancashire company which turns UK-sourced plastic into recycled plastic 'wood' which is used for garden furniture, play equipment, street furniture and fence panels.
 
Cornwall-based A Short Walk has been recycling waste materials for many years and its product range is increasing as its research and experimentation generates results. It's used recycled coffee cups to make products for home and garden and has recently introduced a range of Eco plant pot holders. Also look to A Short Walk for bird feeders, sun dials, re-useable coffee cups and tide clocks.
 
Chilean designer Rodrigo Alonso has also made use of recycled plastic in his range of geometric stools called 100%. These are made from plastic waste from electronics, toys, drinks trays and old stadium seats, roto-moulded into striking angular furniture pieces that are also fully recyclable in turn. Over in TokyoMiso Soup Design has also produced contemporary seating from recycled materials, this time from old fizzy drink bottles. The Porous Chair is in stiffened polyester made from recycled PET plastic.
 
Fabrics
 
The fact that plastic can be recycled into a textile as well as a solid material increases its design potential. Blinds company Tuiss offers its Index blind made from recycled plastic bottles while organic textile specialist Offset Warehouse has several fabrics made from fibres from recycled plastic bottles, including a gently draping laminated jersey fabric which has all kinds of uses for interior décor. Woven PET plastic is also being used to great effect for outdoor rugs and British brand Weaver Green has a superb collection which also incorporates cushions, seating pouffes and now throws.  Luxury Spanish carpet maker Now Carpets also has outdoor rugs made using recycled polyester fibre. 
 
 

 

Geometric recycled plastic seating units from Chilean designer Rodrigo Alonso's 100% range
Offset Warehouse has a versatile drapey fabric made from recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton
Kitchen built from panels of Durat, a Finnish solid surface material that contains post consumer recycled plastics and is fully recyclable by Durat
Planter made from recycled plastic, available at British Recycled Plastic. www.britishrecycledplastic.co.uk
US-manufactured Adirondack chairs are made from recycled plastic Polywood. Available in the UK through DMMP, www.dmmp.co.uk
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Recycled v recyclable
 
If you're feeling fired with enthusiasm again for plastic, it's worth reiterating the distinction between recycled and recyclable.
 
Recycled means it is made from waste products – either post-industrial/pre-consumer (factory offcuts and discards from manufacturing processes) or post-consumer (items that have already been used and discarded, such as old electronics, empty packing and broken plastic items.) Recyclable simply means that the material can be turned into something new if recycling facilities exist, and if the product ends up in those facilities – note the two fairly big “ifs”. According to the British Plastics Federation: “Nearly all types of plastics can be recycled, however the extent to which they are recycled depends upon technical, economic and logistic factors.”
 
For example, Recofloor is a scheme to recycle vinyl (PVC) flooring that has collected 1,700 tonnes of the stuff in five years, both old flooring that has been lifted and offcuts from manufacturing and laying floors. There are depots all over the country to collect vinyl, but you will only be able to use them if you are in the trade – pull up your own vinyl floor and you will have no choice but to take it to your local tip, where in most cases it won’t be recycled. (Or get in touch with manufacturers such as Amtico, Harvey Maria or Moduleo and see what they say, as they use recycled content in their production.)
 
When it comes to recycling plastics easily, there is a postcode lottery in the UK, with some recycling plants taking a wide variety of plastics and others not. Here's a snapshot:
 
Surrey County Council lists that they accept plastic garden furniture at their community recycling centre, but the small print reveals: “All of our recycling centres accept small mixed plastics for recycling. They also accept larger items such as garden furniture and garden toys but these are not recycled.”  Mmm
 
Essex County Council states that with the exception of plastic bottles 'other plastic items unfortunately cannot be recycled at the centre and therefore should be placed in the non-recyclable items container'.
 
Suffolk County Council collects hard plastics for recycling at all 11 of its sites and diverted 2,800 tonnes from landfill in two years. 
 
Cambridgeshire County Council has two sites that take plastic garden furniture which is exported for recycling.
 
City of London incinerates plastic furniture along with household waste to provide energy.
 
Islington Council (north London) has stopped taking plastics at its household recycling centre because of China's ban on accepting UK waste plastic for recycling. But households can still put plastic in green bins for collection and currently its being incinerated in east London to generate electricity.
 
So unless you happen to live in an area that does offer full recycling facilities for plastics, treat 'recyclable' with a certain amount of caution. Unfortunately, there is a sense in which 'recycled' can be perceived in a negative way, and that is one of the challenges facing the industry.
 
For some consumers, recycled still tends to mean secondhand and second-rate. 'We may be in 2019 but there’s a long way to go before consumers finally understand the value of materials from recycled sources,' warns Paul Warren. 'But I think its provenance only enhances it.'
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