Design Students Use Art to Reimagine Plastic Recycling – Creating Lamps, Seat Covers, and More

London design students were given a challenge: take plastic that will most likely end up in the landfill, and turn it into a new raw material using as little energy as possible.

Part of a competition from the London Royal College of Art, the students excelled, turning plastic into train car-seat covers, sound insulation, art pieces, lamps, and more.

A partnership between the London-based industrial design firm PriestmanGoode and the College’s MA in textiles program, the competition was called Precious Waste, highlighting the remaining usefulness in so many of the materials we throw away.

“The students were free to consider how their new materials, surface finishes, or textures could be used in different environments, whether in retail spaces, restaurants, hotels, or transport environments,” the presentation website reads.

“The students tackled the brief in the most difficult times with great enthusiasm and passion, addressing one of the biggest challenges of our time and creating beautifully handcrafted solutions.”

First place went to Bethany Voak, a young woman who not only repurposed polystyrene foam, but re-molded it, allowing for a change in color, texture, and consistency that could be used for many different purposes, whether as the most avant garde art piece, or as a drywall replacement.

Even though it’s 100% recyclable, polystyrene, the hard white plastic used to pack televisions and the like, is rarely recycled in Voak’s home country of the UK; a pity as polystyrene also endures in the environment longer than any other common plastic.

During her work, she discovered an organic molecule that turns the rigid yet spongy foam into a moldable material that can take dyes, and become hard—opening up a huge array of potential uses.

Second place went to Henrietta Dent, who unwound plastic produce nets like the kinds which hold a pound of onions, with nothing more than her hands and a bit of heat. The resulting material is stronger by virtue of its woven nature, and can be used to create cushion covers for the seats on, for example, the London underground.

Other entries included Christina Pei Fen, who cut up individual fruit nets with scissors before using a hot iron to quickly press them into a single sheet, which can have color and ephemeral consistency.

Lianyi Chen, another runner up, 3D-printed and laser cut a polystyrene material along design specifications created by visualizing sound waves. The resulting stringy material, she says, can be used as sound insulation, stuffing for toys, or as a 3D-printing filament.

Another entry, aiming to tackle the plastic incense packaging at Buddhist temples, created an app that tracks the donation of this plastic packaging every time one goes for prayer.

At the end the trash is turned into a lamp in the appearance of a lotus flower.