Plastic gets a bad rep nowadays. And rightly sow.
The world produces more than 300 million tons of plastic each year. 8 million pieces of that plastic end up in oceans every day as waste, and approximately 18.5% of landfills are made of plastic waste. The worst part? That plastic won’t break down for a very, very long time.
But plastic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The material has been used for decades in everything from clothing and cars to common household items, and some industries such as furniture manufacturing will continue to rely extensively on plastic.
But is plastic furniture always bad for the environment, or is it more nuanced than that? Although plastic in general has done more harm than good for the environment, plastic furniture can be more sustainable than meets the eye.
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Is Sustainable Plastic Furniture Possible?
Plastic furniture can be reused.
The biggest issue with plastic is that it does not biodegrade in the environment; when people throw away plastic trash, that trash will last in the environment for hundreds of years. But this is an issue primarily for single-use, disposable plastic goods.
Furniture is made to last. While there are environmental concerns that come from plastic manufacturing, plastic furniture does not contribute as much to the plastic waste problem as many other plastic goods do. Plastic furniture also encourages reuse — for instance, using sustainable outdoor furniture like camping chairs.
Plastic furniture can have a better carbon footprint than conventional furniture.
Plastic can be considered more sustainable than common furniture materials in several ways:
- Plastic production uses less energy and leads to less carbon emissions than production of materials like metal.
- Plastic is lighter than common furniture materials like wood and metal, meaning it has a lower carbon footprint from transport and delivery.
- Plastic furniture is sturdy and lasts a long time, which encourages reuse and repurposing.
Creating furniture from plastic also reduces reliance on other materials that lead to environmental harm — overreliance on wood, for instance, contributes to deforestation and increases the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Plastic furniture can be recycled.
Furniture can be made from recycled plastics, and furniture made of plastics can also be recycled; many plastics can be recycled 2–3 times before they are no longer usable. Creating new plastic furniture from existing or recycled plastic products and recycling the high quality, sturdy plastics that go into furniture are both steps that help prevent plastic from entering the waste stream and polluting the environment.
Plastic furniture can be upcycled or repurposed.
The ultimate goal is to create a circular, zero-waste economy. This sustainability model aims to reduce consumption and encourage people to reuse, recycle, and upcycle their products. You might be familiar with reduce, reuse, and recycle, but what about upcycling?
Upcycling is the process of using old products to create new products of the same or even better quality. Unlike recycling, upcycling usually doesn’t involve breaking products down into raw components — meaning upcycling has a smaller carbon footprint than recycling. This process is just another way plastic furniture can help keep plastics in circulation and out of the waste stream.
Some upcycling and repurposing ideas for plastic furniture include:
- Turning broken plastic patio furniture into a table.
- Using small pieces of plastic to create a bench.
- Converting old plastic furniture into building materials.
The Future of Plastic Furniture
New designs and manufacturing processes.
Traditional plastic furniture is often molded as a single piece or composed of a few large pieces attached together. More modern plastic furniture is made of numerous small pieces of plastic. The transition to using smaller building blocks to put together furniture pieces opens the door for greater flexibility and provides more creative opportunities for reuse.
Multiple types of plastics can be incorporated into a single piece.
There are many creative ways to incorporate plastic into furniture, and plastic furniture doesn’t have to be made from fresh, new plastic. Various ethical and sustainable solutions already exist to incorporate plastic waste into new furniture. For instance:
- The Print Your City initiative helped turn publicly collected plastic waste and donations into 3D printed urban furniture.
- Polywood is a blend of recycled High-Density Polyethylene plastics that come from milk jugs and detergent bottles. The material can be used to make sturdy outdoor furniture.
- Miniwiz used recycled plastic materials, grain waste, and specialized fabrics to create Hops Chair, a sustainable furniture solution for indoor and outdoor use. Hops Chair was made entirely from post-consumer waste.
Various types of plastic can be melted down to create homogenous plastics to remold if that’s the desired look. Recycled plastics, like their freshly minted counterparts, can be dyed multiple colors to match any decor. Plastics can also be combined with other materials such as metals or fabrics to create sturdy, stylish furniture pieces.
Recycled plastic furniture has the added benefit of quick production. Plastic filament can be fed into a 3D printer and furniture can be printed onsite at a recycling plant. Solutions such as 3D printing are more eco-friendly than more traditional furniture manufacturing practices that involve materials such as wood and metals. Rapid production also cuts down on storage costs and emissions related to warehousing.
Miniwiz Is Moving Us Towards the Future
Plastic has created an environmental nightmare. Experts are working to solve the plastic problem and finding ways to eliminate single-use and disposable plastics in favor of more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions. However, the plastic that already exists isn’t going anywhere, and it’s important to find ways to reuse that plastic and avoid adding to literal mountains of plastic waste.
Miniwiz has pioneered creative solutions to repurposing old plastics and other consumer waste products. Using innovative manufacturing processes that have been perfected over 15 years of research, Miniwiz provides sustainability solutions for commercial and household applications ranging from designing and manufacturing city-building materials to repurposing old plastics for everyday consumer products such as phone cases and sunglasses. Check out our website and learn more about our solutions today.