WASTED DESIGN CLUB: 5-DAY RECAP OF PLASTIC EXPERIMENTATION AND DESIGN

Starting in 2015, CITIES’ new project WASTED dives into community-activated plastic up-cycling and reprocessing, starting the week of 12-16 January with the WASTED Design Club, focused on realizing the WASTED Block and the blueprint for a full-on neighborhood WASTED Laboratory.

DAY ONE: INTRODUCTION AND BLOCK DESIGN

Day one at the WASTED Design Club started out as you might think: Introductions. CITIES’ co-founder and managing director Francesca Miazzo and WASTED project manager Barbara Koole started us off with a presentational overview of WASTED: A project tackling community activation, urban waste issues and sustainable material design standards. Also present this morning were members of CITIES’ team and the select designers brought aboard for their impressive knowledge and experience in material design.

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Following the presentation, designers introduced themselves. First we had Alexander Wiefel, a knowledgeable and experienced plastic enthusiast who can also be found on the Noun Project. Next, Roos Meerman of Physica Manufactura, which looks into mechanical influences on natural phenomena. Last but not least, Bastiaan Tolhuijs, founder of NEWASTE, who is an expert at utilizing what may be considered waste to produce beautiful, new objects.

We were then joined by Peter van Assche of Bureau SLA, one of the partners, along with Overtreders W, who will be constructing and co-utlizing the WASTED Laboratory. Going over the architectural plans for the building, we also talked a lot about plastics; for instance, melting points, color combinations, off gassing and environmental concerns.

BLOCK DESIGN

Four areas of focus guided the afternoon’s Block design session:

1. Modular
2. Light weight
3. Different functions
4. Possibility to dismantle

With open possibilities, the afternoon generated a lot of questions aimed at delimiting the process. For example, will we shred or reuse/modify plastics? Should the Block interact with other materials? Should it be one shape or multiple? What techniques will be used – melting, welding, ironing, intrusion, extrusion, rotation, etc.? What level of simplicity and accessibility do we need to achieve in order for all to be active in process? What plastic(s) work best?

At the end of the day large pieces of paper covered walls and tables, with books, computers and notebooks all soaking up new knowledge of the WASTED Block and process to be.

Conclusive considerations for the day rested on five design parameters:

1) Scale – what size blocks will we work with?
2) One unit or multiple – will the block have multiple pieces, and be one size or multiple?
3) Connect or not connect – will blocks connect, and if so, how exactly?
4) Whole or shredded plastic – will we need to shred plastic for reprocesses?
5) Autonomous or co-dependent – will one block have a function, or require multiple blocks to be useful?

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DAY TWO: NEIGHBORHOOD TOUR AND BLOCK DESIGN

Despite the drizzle, the CITIES and the Design Club crew met in good spirit at 9:00 AM at Noord’s De Pont café, just steps from the busy double-boat Buiksloterweg ferry running between Amsterdam Centrum and Noord. Over hot coffees and sweet breakfast bites, we discussed the recycling situation in Amsterdam, comparing, contrasting and exploring ideas from international systems. This was in preparation for an organized tour of Noord, before lunch at EYE, Amsterdam’s film museum, and a powerful ideation session among designers back at Noorderparkkamer from afternoon to evening.

WASTED is as much about community engagement and activation as it is sustainable material design. On this note, the Noord tour was important to introduce the local landscape to generate a more community, locally oriented design session between CITIES and the Design Club team. The first stop was Clusius College, an environmentally focused school and WASTED partner. Getting a tour of the premises, we saw ponies, pigs, snakes and fish among an assortment of small animals the Eco Team Children learn how to care for. Moving on, we visited Noord’s Pink Tanker – a BP gas station turned community hot spot with a Converse sponsored skate park out front. Nearby to the Tanker, we visited the site where partners Overtreders W and Bureau SLA will construct the WASTED Plastic Pavilion/Villa Clusius. Looking into local Municipality plastic collection, we then checked out a plastic heroes container – city collection bin – at Meeuwenlaan.

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After lunch, WASTED Block Design was priority number one. Infusing inspiration from the tour with momentum from day one’s introduction and initial brainstorming, the designers were given independent, free reign on experimentation and ideation.

Collaboratively sharing and debating ideas at the end of the day, we started with ideas from Roos. She had one idea we all liked, which basically used an extrusion process to spit out square or rectangle plastic units, where length can be cut to preference. Ideally, these would be hollow – to use less material and be more lightweight. Plastic types PP and PE would be ideal for this, as for most processes.

Alexander had a handful of ideas, after working with varied plastic building ‘toys’, including an intriguing idea about using rotational molding to create a sort of multi-sided block that can fulfill multiple functions.

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Bastiaan was working with Solid Works design program on the computer, churning out four inspired ideas, one of which resonated with Alexander’s multi-use block design. Hard to articulate, the design was a four-side cube or rectangle with open ends that could easily be fastened together on all sides. With this, objects such as bins, stools, chairs and tables could be easily created. Working with different sizes, both bigger and smaller objects can be constructed. A good start.

Excited about the day’s process and full of ideas, hours after the sunset, we broke to sleep on the ideas and regroup in the morning.

DAY THREE: PROCESS DESIGN

Process design was the name of the game for day three – meaning we tasked ourselves with figuring out how exactly collected plastic will be made ready for reprocessing at the Villa Clusius plastic pavilion. Joined by project partner Reinder Bakker of Overtreders W, the team dove into nitty-gritty details of making community-bsaed collection, design and up-cycled plastic production a local reality in Amsterdam Noord.

Sitting around a table at Noorderparkkamer, covered with computers, notebooks and large sheets of paper filling up with illustrations and notes among a sea of pens, rulers sticky notes and coffees, Villa Clusius design partner Reinder Bakker of Overtreders W exchanged plastic knowledge in an animated discussion with CITIES’ team. Overtreders W and Bureau SLA will be constructing the Villa Clusius, housing the WASTED Laboratory, as well as share the space to produce tiles for Clusius College and the walls of the Villa.

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MATERIAL DECISIONS

Discussing LDPE, HDPE, PP, PET, PS and PVC, we enforced our earlier decision that PE and PP are the most ideal plastics for use, due to workable melting points and lack of toxins (PVC and PET on the other hand, produce toxins, are quite dense and more difficult to reprocess into new objects). Expanding on this, we decided PE will be used for the Villa because it is UV resistant to better withstand the suns rays, and CITIES will use PP for WASTED Block construction.

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PROCESS DESIGN

Knowing what plastics would be used, we could better approach how to separating – the first step in processing a bag of community-collected plastic waste. Some types are easily identifiable. For example, LDPE comes in the form of plastic bags and packaging material, while a trained eye can identify PVC due to it’s weight, feel and structure. PP and PE – what we want – require more intricate methods, such as the water and oil test outlined below.

After separating, we will give the plastic a rough cut and rough wash a sample piece to prepare for the water and oil test. Putting plastics in water – everything we want to use floats (PP and PE), others sink (e.g. PVC). Then, putting the floating PP and PE into oil, such as cooking oil, the PP will float and PE sink. You can try this at home!

Having our plastics sorted, we will then give everything a wash, then dry before we shred the plastic – ready to be turned into tiles, tables, chairs and more!

Plans change. At the end of the day, we felt good about the process design, continuing to experiment with other materials for WASTED Block building, such as LDPE (e.g. plastic bags). Upon this experimentation, we had a fundamental change in previous concept design – inspired to adapt the process and Block design to utilize both LDPE and PP.

DAY FOUR: REWARD MECHANISM AND BLOCK DESIGN
 
First things on day four, we sunk into meetings discussing how to organize, instigate and operate a reward mechanism that enables community members to earn a form of redeemable points in exchange for, say, goods and services for plastic contributed to the Villa Clusius – where the WASTED Laboratory up-cylces plastic waste into newfound wonders. At the same time, designers were melting LDPE plastic waste donated by the New Energy Docks into tiles and experimentation with Block design.

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BLOCK DESIGN

It was Thursday. Friday was the last day. Presentations were due. After much discussion, debate, testing, drawing and computer modeling, the designers presented their best ideas at the end of the day – which were results of integrating mixed-methods in collaborative concept generation.

The designs included:

1. Extruded plastic building beams.

First we had an idea based around the simple production technique of extrusion, where you basically melt PP and/or PE and then squeeze it through a mold to produce a shape, similar to a sheet of spaghetti. In this case, a connective building beam, which can be extruded to preferred length.

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The problem is that it takes a lot of material, produces heavy pieces, even if hollow. While this may be good because, for instance, it won’t blow away outside, it is hard to work with. This shape is also not very playful and less modular than, say, a block. Further, everyone was now hoping to use LDPE plastic bags both for their workable applicability and to better address the major problem LDPE plastic waste – think a giant mass of plastic bags in the ocean.

2. Heated press bucket.

Second we had a bucket-style ‘block’ that is made with LDPE using a hot press method that melts the plastic and presses it into a solid formation that cools into a solid structure. ICOVA uses a similar process to create relatively large, compacted blocks of industrial plastic waste that is resold to recycling plants for industrial reprocessing (often channeling through China for recycling, production, or both).

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Benefits of the bucket design center around diverse functionality. For instance, standing one way it is a bin, the other way a stool. The main concern is that structural integrity is compromised due to thin walls of pressed LDPE, making it, for instance, difficult to stack and build. Setting the plastic and molding

3. Heated press block and stick.

A third, computer-based design involved a similar system to the bucket idea, but rather than a hollow bucket that we found a weakness – Bastiaan designed a block. A block that was more structurally sound, functional and playful. We liked this.

The ‘block and stick’ design would be produced using the heat and press into formation method using LDPE (plastic bags). There would also be three heated rods running through the blocks corners. These holes would provide connecting points. Connectors would be creating using intrusion or extrusion methods of harder PP or PE plastics. In this way, we also found it ideal that it mirrored the general percentages of household plastic waste – more LDPE, less PP and PE.

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Concerns of the block and stick design centered on how the block would be heated and cooled in an efficient fashion, as it has to be cool when it exits the mold, and a hot mold needs to be ready to produce new blocks; however, designers were convinced a solution could be created without too much trouble. Another concern was weight capacity – what happens when you stack a bunch of blocks and put weight on it? Will the bottom blocks falter under pressure? This will need to be tested at a later, prototype stage.

All designs were intriguing, yet we had to pick just one and the block and stick was the group’s favorite. Wrapping up, we looked forward to going over the ideas with an audience the next day.

DAY FIVE: COMMUNITY LUNCH AND FINAL PRESENTATIONS
 
Gathering at Noorderparkkamer on the first sunny morning of the week, the team finalized their presentations while getting a healthy fix of espresso. Guests were arriving at 13:00, when we would all share a tasty lunch of pesto pasta and couscous salads over introductions and chatting, provided by Noord-based BiteMe Conceptual Food Lab.

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PRESENTATIONS

CITIES’ team updated the introductory presentation from day one, and Francesca shared the project plan, week’s goals and a bit about what we were doing over the week at the Design Club. Transitioning into areas of the design process, materials and results, designer Alexander Wiefel shifted into the spotlight and gave an overview of plastics, explaining decisions and reasoning outlined in day three’s report; for example, PVC has toxic chemicals and will not be used, while HDPE, LDPE, PP and PE are great to work with. He also gave a demonstration of the water/oil test used to identify and separate plastics. (Remember, PP and PE float in water, and when placed in cooking oil PP floats and PE sinks, as cooking oil’s density is right in between the two.) Alex also covered the process design highlighted in day three using a handy graphical layout that allowed the audience to better envision the Laboratory at work.

Moving on to design ideas, Roos and Bastiaan presented the three ideas highlighted in day four’s recap: extrusion plastic building beams, heated press bucket and heated press block and stick.

FINAL DESIGN CHOICE

Without saying which design we had chosen, when the audience asked if we had to choose one, they quickly and correctly assumed we had chosen the block and stick design – a good sign of the block’s potential!

We liked the block and stick design for varied reasons, such as its playful, useful and simple block form design that could fulfill varied uses as one unit or multiple. Moreover, our reasoning resonated with the block’s capacity to fulfill principles highlighted in the design brief on day one:

1.    Light weight
2.    Modular
3.    Different functions
4.    Possibility to dismantle

Along with these principles, the block found a balance between our parameters of scale; one unit or multiple; connect or not connect; whole or shredded; and autonomous or co-dependent.

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AUDIENCE FEEDBACK

Positive feedback was prominent. For instance, Simon van Dommelen from Noorderpark Trust expressed enthusiasm for informing and involving the youth with recycling, plastic awareness and block utilization, resonating with Alexander who expressed our shared interest in advancing the WASTED project also as an awareness and education based project that emphasizes youth.

The audience also reflected concerns. For instance, a woman with a background in sustainability and intrusion molding from her studies in Melbourne was concerned with the demand of resources and energy. Considering that only the connecting rods were made using intrusion and also speaking from experience, the designers were confident the process would be effective and sustainable. Another concern came from Onno Hoogerhuis, the head of waste collection for Amsterdam Noord, who rightly asked how and where in fact we were going to handle initial sorting, as we would have bags of smelly trash to work through. All the kinks of this are currently in the process of being sorted out, but our tentative initial sorting and rough washing scheme will alleviate most difficulties. As the project moves forward, we will design and create a designated area equipped to handle the process.

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WASTED MOVES FORWARD

We do hope recycling rates increase, that the community benefits from our recycling reward system and learns more about plastics, and that the Laboratory generates useful objects for the community. We are confident in achieving significant levels of success in these areas, but we will need your help at the local level!

Stay with us on Twitter and Facebook for updates on WASTED’s progression – this is only the beginning!

PHOTOS

For more photos, visit CITIES’ WASTED Design Club Facebook album.

Text: Mehdi Comeau

Created on 19 January 2015

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