Recycled plastics and urban challenges: design in a holistic way
On April 26, 2022, we were guests at Design Fest Gent for the kick-off of a design track on the application of recycled plastics in an urban environment. In order to boost the image of recycled plastics, we wanted to show that recycled plastics can also be used to create beautiful, sustainable, meaningful and saleable products that also meet urban challenges.
With the workshop at Design Fest, organized by the City of Ghent and Capture/UGent, we mainly reached designers and teachers and students of design-related studies. Our business partners Van Werven and DPL were also present and a sector organisation Centexbel-VKC. The first workshop was conceived as an introduction to the problems of so-called 'lost' industrial and commercial plastics. Afterwards we challenged the participants to think of applications around 4 urban challenges. Finally, there was room for a fascinating and lively discussion about the use of plastics.
Because we start from a raw material (i.e. lost industrial and commercial plastics) it was important to get a good picture of the plastics that are collected in an urban context. Through several test runs at companies, stores and restaurants in the different partner cities we noticed that the supply of plastic waste consists mainly of transparent film, colored and printed film, hard plastics and finally a residual fraction of other plastics. The granulate that you get after processing these waste streams was also present.
You can consult the presentation on that here.
In the sessions, 4 urban challenges were put on the table with the explicit request to approach them holistically and thus to look for applications that offer solutions to more than 1 challenge.
For the theme of water in the city, they thought about: purification, softening, cooling, safety, recuperation and recreation.
The participants suggested applications such as local purification (house, neighborhood, green systems), grass tiles instead of asphalt, shading throughout the city, guided flooding, water fun in the city by fountains, slides, ...
Their hybrid solutions were: collecting rain on bus shelter roofs and collecting pumped water from construction sites to irrigate the green roofs.
In relation to garbage in the city, the challenges are in recycling, avoidance of plastic, sensitization, empowerment, intervention and bins.
Formulated product ideas: bicycle racks made of recycled plastic, taps where people can fill their own plastic bottles, pocket-sized cigarette containers.
In terms of the theme of mobility in the city, 6 fields were defined by the participants: infrastructure, safety, fun, nuisance, accessibility and hybrid use.
Some of the solutions proposed were the following: pit-fill system in the color of the road surface, shared bicycles with recycled plastic, developing a terrace system with green roofs, sound walls using facade plants. They also proposed a hybrid solution: bus shelters set up as green spaces (with green roof), but also as charging points, resting and hiding places and information points..
For the challenge green in the city, they looked for applications for visual green, shade, fauna in the city, meeting, relaxation and sports, legislation, urban infrastructure, urban farming and climate neutrality.
The list of possible applications was very long, but here is a sample of it: garden and live/play streets (also permanent), ecoducts in the city, mobile greenery, façade vegetation, neighbourhood and herb gardens (horizontal or vertical)
Here too, there were a few hybrid proposals: combining green with sitting, meeting, talking, relaxing, reading, playing, water, cooling, ... Another idea was to equip bicycle racks with green roofs and/or solar panels and collection of rainwater.
On June 29, we plan a follow-up workshop in which we start from the formulated challenges and application areas and look for concrete product ideas made from recycled plastics.
At Design Fest, the city of Ghent also had the opportunity to give a presentation on the PlastiCity project. We concluded this with a few interesting insights in terms of opportunities and obstacles for companies to work with recyclate. Customers often think that products made of recycled plastic are cheaper and that the quality is lower, but that is not necessarily so. These perceptions need to be refuted if you want to market a recycled material successfully. For companies, it is important to be able to continue to use virgin raw materials if it turns out that there is insufficient supply of recyclate available. And also: companies who wish to work with recyclate do not find their way easily in the supply and the quality of the supply fluctuates.
Finally, we also shared the findings of a successful case study conducted by our colleagues in The Hague. This showed that a local infrastructure is needed to increase the success rate of local business cases.
The benefits of a local infrastructure, which includes all steps of the chain, are the following: better and easier control over plastic quality, a shorter and simpler supply chain from start to finish, the use of techniques that can handle smaller volumes to start with, the creation of local products with more recognition and higher local involvement