Dave Hakkens’ earliest instruction videos for DIY machines that recycle plastic into new everyday objects were great, but limited in their realistic capacity to make a dent in a disaster.

For Dutch Design Week Hakkens revealed version 3.0 of the project, which has involved people from across the globe from Mexico to Poland.

Extruder and shredder at #DDW17 Fantastic Plastic

“This is more than just a comment on a situation,” says Hakkens, “or a project designed to get people thinking. We really want people to start recycling their plastic.”

The troubling issue of plastic is a design dilemma. For independent designers it is usually easier to use easy-to-access-and-manipulate materials. Machines that deal with wood and metal, for example, are relatively affordable compared to the technology needed to work with plastic.

Fantastic Plastic wall tiles from Thailand

“Only big industry can access plastic machines,” Hakkens says. “Molds and extractors that pop out a shape every three seconds are prohibitively expensive and it is this system that needs to change. I want small designers to be able to access it all.”

Hakkens’ solution makes sense. Rather than fight industry, he wants to design new ways to recycle and reuse plastic to avoid its inevitable landfill destination. “We need to make recycling a very normal thing,” he says, “to alter the way people think and ultimately use the material. It is a mental shift that I think will ultimately have a huge impact on a very serious problem.”

If plastic recycling stations were local and if designers and small companies were situated along all points of the process, the culture surrounding the material would be very different. The task would also be realistic - rethinking and reusing one of the cheapest, easiest, and most efficient materials, not trying to get rid of it altogether. “Metal rusts, wood rots,” Hakkens says, “… plastic is cheap and easy. We can’t eradicate it completely, the problem is waste and that we currently make 350 million tonnes of it a year. Plastic packaging, for example, that just gets sent to the tip straight after use. My idea is to change this mindset and to make people embrace plastic as a precious material.”

And just because it’s local doesn’t mean people will be expected to engage with a DIY lifestyle.   “My mum is not going to set up or even touch a machine,” says Hakkens. “The plastic ‘shop’ has to be seen as a place in the village where people bring their plastic to and have it reformed into new and needed objects. The work will always be done by experts.”

To reveal the potential of his concept, Hakkens, for DDW17, designed and produced a collection of objects made from recycled plastic - all produced from his own machines. “My goal has been to present plastic in a new perspective,” he says. “And to inspire designers to see other options for plastic - to work in textures, colours and layers they have not previously seen.”

Already Hakkens is getting requests from big companies that want to set up plastic recycling stations themselves. “I think their motivation can be a little too much about green-washing,” he says. A little bit of recycling at the end of the process doesn’t solve it. They need to tackle the problems that they create in the first place. But the potential for change is real, and the opportunities for designers immense.”

Machine to product routing at the Fantastic Plastic #DDW17 exhibition
Precious Plastic members from around the world
Product Table at Fantastic Plastic