Adding Value: Upcycling problematic plastic waste through digital craft
Plastic pollution is and continues to be a growing problem in today’s world. The consequences of its abundance and combination of take, make, and waste practices linger within our environment and landfills, resulting in negative social, economic, and environmental impacts. Due to China’s new waste ban, New Zealand (NZ) is no longer able to export plastic waste overseas. With the current inadequate waste management infrastructure and without recycling restrictions on different types of plastics, this waste stream becomes complex and problematic.
A significant amount of this waste originates from single-use and non-recyclable plastics, which has only increased over time with the emergence of consumer convenience packaging. Thus, in addition to new infrastructure and systems, a cultural shift and greater awareness is needed to address the plastic waste issue.
There are existing industry leaders who have successfully closed the loop for recycling certain plastic waste streams in NZ. However, field research has revealed that even within such closed looped systems, some residual non-recyclable waste still remains. This research proposes to add new value to this low value and problematic waste in the form of highly crafted artefacts.
This opportunity is explored with a ‘Research through Design’ methodology focusing on 3D printing and digital craft. This includes a practice-based research approach that includes material experimentation and reflective practice to inform the creation of design outputs. The investigation explores the upcycling of bottle caps and sticker labels as difficult and low value waste streams. Outputs include 3D printed artefacts for a variety of applications, including lighting, furniture and craft objects. These design outputs aim to demonstrate how undervalued and neglected materials can be reincarnated in a more durable form, to raise awareness and elicit responses regarding throwaway culture and the global waste problem.