Recycling Life's Rich Tapestry
The Polyester Tshirt
Plastic waste is a vast and multifaceted problem from that everyone is aware of but very few question as part of their daily lives. I started this project because I was so appalled by the amount of plastic microfibres that wash off our clothes, not just killing individual animals but poisoning whole ecosystems of life (including humans). Yet, there was a disproportionate amount of focus on quick fixes that seemed all too tokenistic. But my tone changed drastically the more I worked with plastic, although I still think it is problematic. We stigmatise it with an overarching dismissal of materiality and systems of use. But plastic, as a material, is not intrinsically bad. We have simply failed to design/ implement effective disposal methods and financially viable reprocessing techniques to facilitate sustained up cycling and unlock it's economic potential. (It's the plastic system of use thats bad).
The common assumption when designing for sustainability is that you design a thing to help people be sustainable or a sustainable alternative, but many of these methods merely function as tokanistic islands to promote a sea of mass consumption, and hasten disposal, without due thought. The result of this, clouds recycling in a mist of complexity and green washing confusion.
By designing a plastic craft I intend to make the material properties of different plastics more accessible and change dogma to appreciate 'waste' as a resource not a burden.
By performing this in public, my craft becomes a platform to engage a diverse audience with the tribulations of plastic waste at various scales, and starts debate around possible alternatives.
Public opinion, and behaviour are the driving forces that necessitate political change. So I hope that my public performance invigorates the ripples of causation created by consumer desire, to create market incentives that enable governments and councils to invest in waste management/ transformation technology.
The machinery I made references the Charkha, an ancient technology that enabled cotton to be spun and traded. This citation intends to extend that context to see plastic waste as a new commodity.
My initial research provided two primary insights: 1) Polyester can't be recycled because when PET is melted it's polymers break and it becomes too weak. 2) Most of the public could not distinguish different plastics, (and actually knew nothing about plastic apart from that it is bad). 3) It is our system for reprocessing the material that is at fault the majority of plastic waste.
I found through this process, that plastic use and disposal is complex, and entangled with politics, economics and culture, as well as materiality and education.
So, discourse became something that needed to be designed as well as a platform for discussion, to engage people with problems that are horrendously inaccessible. This allowed me to tap into cultural perspectives, realising waste disposal as a learnt behaviour that everyone has different assumptions about. Then stimulating discussion and debate for alternatives
From China to Bangladesh, Nigeria to Turkey, Kensington to Kent, We all view recycling differently and we all tell ourselves different fables (often to make us feel better about ourselves) as to how it works, to what degree it works and even what kind of person it makes you. The one thing we all do is sweep the problem under the rug/sea/ground and try to hide it from sight. But what if we all engaged in plastic use from a young age and were brought up to be informed and critical of chemical compounds. I wander, would we still have such a fraudulent culture of burden shifting or would we simply have the infrastructure and knowledge for how and when to use different materials, ergo, supplier wouldn't use them wrong either.