Since launching Precious Plastic in 2013, product designer Dave Hakkens has become the spearhead of a global recycling movement. A vast community of makers, hackers and entrepreneurs are now connected through the project, which develops and shares solutions for reducing plastic waste. Their latest research project takes things one step further. In their own words, the Beyond Plastic series is all about “trying to find out what the future of plastic could look like.”
“Making stuff from recycled plastic is pretty cool, but we know we need to break up with plastic in the long run,” explains the team in a statement. That’s why they decided to learn more about biodegradable alternatives to plastic, and investigate different methods to process and produce them. The centrepiece of the project is the new Beyond Plastic Bio Press, a strong heat press that allows you to turn a lot of different organic materials into biodegradable products like plates, bowls or cups. From the team’s first experiments, it’s clear that you can get beautiful, surprising results from using food waste like wheat bran, coffee grounds and orange peels, or agricultural waste like leaves and pine needles.
Accompanying the Bio Press, is a series of engaging videos demonstrating exactly what the machine can do, how it’s built, and more critically, why we should care. In part one, for example, Hakkens deftly explains the crucial difference between bioplastic and biodegradable plastic. “We’ve made a few bowls that can be used to eat from at festivals. You can eat the bowl, though it tastes bad,” he begins. “But the more important thing about it being edible is that it means it can naturally biodegrade.”
In contrast, many bioplastic products have been processed and refined to the point that they actually require very specific, managed conditions to even begin decomposing. Hakkens goes on to show in the video that most bioplastics available in the market today (from coffee cups to cutlery) will remain almost completely intact even after one year in nature. “The waste management behind bioplastics is a very blurry, gray area,” he says. This is one reason why Beyond Plastic is hoping to create an ecosystem, and an awareness, of products that are truly biodegradable, without the need for industrial waste facilities.
As the project is still in its early stages, Hakkens invites anyone and everyone who is interested to join in the experimentation. All in all, the series — which exemplifies the kind of accessible, educational content that the Precious Plastic team has become known for — paints a cautiously optimistic picture. In closing, Hakkens offers some hope: “I would say that this exotic category [of plastics], which is very new, shows a lot of potential for the future.”