Plastic chairs: Addressing the environmental emergency

Charles Sturt University
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Fusion Journal, 2020, (18), pp. 18-29
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
This article argues that product designers working with plastics can respond to our environmental emergency while satisfying their clients’ commercial demands through a case study of plastic chairs. Through the lens of the ‘waste hierarchy’ this article demonstrates how contemporary designs can improve both environmental and commercial outcomes with innovative plastic products. Avoiding waste is the preferred strategy in the ‘waste hierarchy’. To tackle the environmental crisis, we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, currently the main source of plastics. However, plastics can be made from organic material. Currently, less than 1% of plastic is made from renewable biomass sources, but advanced designers have already started to explore the potential of these biodegradable materials. In 2014, Karim Rashid developed the Siamese chair made from an eco-plastic derived from fast-regenerating Brazilian trees, completely avoiding fossil-based plastics. More common today are products that align to the second preferred option in the ‘waste hierarchy’ – to reduce or minimise waste. Decreasing the materials and energy required to produce a product perfectly aligns with capitalist management’s traditional focus on maximising profit. I argue that product designers can influence the uptake of environmentally efficient product design, but this is not enough. Ultimately, we must create a movement that challenges the dominance of petrochemicals as the main source of plastics. I aim to demonstrate that new technologies can be adopted to reduce consumption of scarce resources, satisfying both environmental and economic goals.
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