Positive Plastics: Designing Better Samples of Sustainable Plastics for Industrial Designers

Disposable, single-use plastics give a bad name to the durable plastics that long-term objects are designed with. Thankfully these non-packaging plastics are evolving towards more sustainable solutions like PCR and PIR (Post-Consumer Resin and Post-Industrial Resin, i.e. recycled), biobased plastics and UBQ, the latter of which is made out of actual garbage.

So why aren’t these more sustainable plastics being more widely used? German industrial designer Efrat Friedland and her two colleagues, Danish design engineer Erik Moth-Müller and Finnish product developer Markus Paloheimo, have concluded that there’s a disconnect between designers and manufacturers: Practicing designers often aren’t familiar with the latest reduced-impact plastic developments, and the plastics manufacturers themselves don’t do a good job of communicating with designers.

For instance, Friedland knows what an industrial designer needs to see in a plastic sample: Not just the surface quality and what it feels like, but how easily will it run in the mold? What’s the warpage like, if it’s molded flat, does it stay flat? How much will it shrink? How well does it do corners? How little of a draft angle can I get away with? How does it handle living hinges?

The trio found that the samples and plastic swatches sent out by many of these newer plastics manufacturers didn’t answer those questions. (Other manufacturers like these guys have figured it out.) So they set out to design better samples for these unsung plastics:

They sell the kits for €250 (USD $289) through their new company, Positive Plastics. “The moulded samples are thoughtfully designed to help designers, engineers, product managers, and brand owners quickly understand the material properties,” they write. “The PositivePlastics sample kit includes 16 plastic materials with a reduced environmental footprint. Attached to each material is a label, containing sufficient information to assist preliminary materials selection. Additional information can be found by scanning the QR code, directing you to the material info pages you find on this website.”

Thankfully, the packages are shipped out in mycelium packaging.

You can also read details of the individual plastics here. (Click on the thumbnails to get to the individual detail sheets.