Why is plastic waste a problem?
It seems like every day there is a new story on the global devastation of plastic pollution. Sadly, the more we learn, the worse things seem to be. Here are some of the reasons plastic is threatening ecosystems all over the world:
- Plastic is everywhere and seemingly used in everything, including packaging, most textiles (clothes, fabric, carpet etc), cosmetics (microbeads).
- 50% of all the plastic we use is thrown away after a single use. This includes items such as water bottles, grocery bags, straws etc.
- Currently, only 5% of the plastic we use is reclaimed/recycled.
- 10 metric tonnes of plastic pollution wash into the Pacific Ocean every day – from L.A. alone.
- In the last 10 years humans have produced more plastic than all previous time put together.
- Virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
- Our clothing contains a large amount of plastic which also contributes huge amounts of landfill and pollution as it breaks down. People now keep clothes for a far shorter amount of time than ever before, choosing to throw them away when they become bored, instead of repairing clothes that become worn out.
- Plastic never goes away, it just degrades into smaller and smaller pieces which end up in waterways (including drinking water), habitats all over the planet, food chains, and, humans. The current estimate for ocean plastic of 5 trillion particles is believed to be a “major underestimation”.
- We still don’t really know the direct risk of plastic contamination to humans.
- In spite of all this, the production of plastic is actually increasing.
What can we do?
Reduce – Reuse – Recycle (+Repair!)
The best way we can have an impact on plastic pollution is to not use the plastic in the first place (reduce). We can do this by taking greater responsibility for our purchases and habits:
- Use reusable water bottles, lunch containers, coffee cups, shopping bags, drinking straws
- Be prepared to not buy something if there is an excessive use of plastic packaging.
- Be more considerate about our purchases such as clothing – how long will you use the item for before it is thrown away?
- Spread knowledge about the danger of plastic pollution
- Get involved – follow #preciousplastic, #plasticpollution and many other social media tags and profiles for details about sustainability, clean up activities
When we collect and prepare our plastics for recycling, we become more aware of our consumption. We start to pay attention to the types of plastics we are using and rethink some of those purchases – perhaps switching brands or even not buying the item any more. These are some added benefits of recycling our plastics.
Recycling our plastic waste into items like bowls, lamp shades and furniture is a wonderful way to repurpose plastic into something usable and learn more about the impacts – but this only treats the symptom of the problem, not the cause, which is too much consumption of plastic!
What is Precious Plastic?
Precious Plastic is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online, for free.
In early 2018, ISB was able to set up our own plastic recycling station using the plans and expertise from Precious Plastic – we even had one of their representatives, Mathias, spend a week with us to teach us some techniques.
How does it work?
The easiest plastics to recycle are #2, #5 and #6. This is because they tolerate a range of different of heating and manipulation techniques without producing noxious fumes. In the future, other plastics may also be recycled at ISB but these would require specialised equipment.
Step 1: Collection
There are currently collection bins located around the school, including the design labs, different hallways and classrooms. Please ensure that the plastic items are labeled with the correct number and are clean.
The most common examples of plastics we can recycle are:
- Milk bottles
- Bottle caps
- Shampoo & detergent bottles
- Take away containers
- Lots of other containers – always check the number!
Step 2: Sorting & shredding
The items are taken to the Fab Lab, sorted into similar colours and shredded, then the shredded plastic goes into tubs ready to be used in different design projects. One great thing about shredding the plastic is that it takes up much less space – so a full tub of plastic containers can be shredded down to around 1/20th the volume.
Step 3: Making
There are several techniques we can apply in the Fab Lab to create designs from shredded plastic:
We can put different plastics in the oven where it is melted and can be moulded into different forms such as bowls, jewellery, etc.
An extruder is a bit like a sausage maker! Shredded plastic goes in, then it is heated and forced out as a molten thread. It takes some practice, but the technique can be used to make bowls, baskets, hats, lamp shades, etc.
This machine allows melted plastic to be casted into different forms by pouring the plastic into a mold. Using this technique we can produce furniture, phone cases, key chains, statues, etc.
What can we make with recycled plastic waste?
There are lots of different things we can make using our Precious Plastics equipment in the Fab Lab:
- Decorative bowls (not suitable for food)
- Plant holders
- Jewelry & fashion
- Coasters & tiles
To get inspired, follow #preciousplastic (and variations) on social media