In this research project, Snøhetta aimed to better understand plastic better as a material, its journey and footprint in the value chain, as well as its inherent qualities. A key ambition was to shift the public’s attitude towards used plastic, from regarding it as waste to seeing it as a valuable resource. Our research has resulted in several different projects, spanning from an educational plastic laboratory and products made from recycled plastic, to new ways of thinking about disposable packaging in an urban environment.
The project has received support from the Design-Driven Innovation Program (DIP), led by Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) in cooperation with the Research Council of Norway and Innovation Norway.
The Plastic Challenge
Plastic is a synthetic polymer mainly extracted from oil. The use of plastic has increased significantly since the 1960’s, and plastic is rapidly taking over for other materials in a broad variety of industries. The production and disposal of plastic, amplified by an increasing global demand, has a significant environmental impact. The expansive use of plastic is linked to issues such as increased greenhouse effect, environmental toxicity and littering.
From Waste to Valuable Resource
With its unique chemical structure, plastic is one of the most high-grade materials that exists. Plastic is durable, waterproof and lightweight. It can be both soft and flexible or hard and solid. Color can be added to it, and it does not rot. In addition, plastic is relatively inexpensive to manufacture, which is why it is often chosen by industry as a key component in production.
Many believe that the material has exhausted its value after it has been used once. In order to reduce the need to produce new, so-called virgin plastic, consumers and industry need to acknowledge the value inherent in used plastic and find ways to substitute virgin plastic with recycled material. Through this research project, Snøhetta aims to build awareness of the value of the material and explore how recycled plastic can be employed in new ways through innovation and design.
A Broader Perspective
Small-scale initiatives like beach cleaning days and ocean cleanup projects are becoming increasingly popular amongst a broad spectrum of the population. At the same time, the industry needs to take lead on combating climate change and finding more sustainable ways of catering to consumer needs in the future.
Snøhetta aims to push for a more holistic approach to product design and production, through working closely with the industry. We believe that consumer demand can be met through smart design and appealing solutions with significantly lower environmental footprints than what is the standard today. We want to share the insights and experiences gained through this project to encourage other actors to make more sustainable choices for today and for the future.