Founded in 2017, U.K.-based A Plastic Planet (APP) has a single goal: to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap. Its stated target is to eradicate 1 trillion pieces of plastic waste by 2025. To this end, the pro-business, pro-solutions organization has added to its initiatives a first-of-its-kind online materials and systems solutions platform, developed to empower and educate designers about alternatives to plastics for products/packaging, textiles, and the built environment.
“PlasticFree is a new design tool for the 160 million global creatives, visually rich, packed with case studies, proof points, and editorial from creative peers and scientists,” says Siân Sutherland, co-founder and chief of PlasticFree and A Plastic Planet. “We have a simple aim—to make the creative the smartest person in the room, to empower them to push back against the inevitable brief that says, ‘Just use a recycled or bioplastic so we get a green tick.’
“PlasticFree also champions the systemic change that must be achieved. Taking 1.7 planets worth of resources every single year is of course unsustainable in every way. If the designer can influence not just the material, but also the system, more impact will be created. Reusables, prefill systems, 3D printing, waterless formulas, etc., are all featured to inspire even further.”
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According to Sutherland, the impetus for the platform came from APP’s experiences over the past six years working with governments, the UN, industry, and materials makers. During that time, she says, the organization became acutely aware of the knowledge gap between the wider creative community and plastic-free materials and systems solutions.
APP began developing the platform in 2021, guided by conversations with and input from leading industry insiders and the support of the creative council, whose members, Sutherland relates, include renowned British figures such as designer Thomas Heatherwick, architect Sir David Chipperfield, and lighting, accessories, and furniture designer Tom Dixon, whom she says “have ensured it is a platform fit for purpose.” Also included among the 40 participants were business leaders, scientists, and materials innovators, among others.
As of January 2023, when the site launched, it included 125 case studies from five continents, giving examples of how alternative materials have been used to improve existing products and systems along with editorial from designers. As of press time, the number of case studies is now in the hundreds and is growing daily. According to Sutherland, by 2026, PlasticFree is expected to contain 1,000-plus scalable solutions.
Also included on the platform is a list of materials searchable by properties such as waterproof, flexible, heatproof, etc. “The platform is entirely intuitive to how designers need to create new solutions,” says Sutherland. “There are over 100 materials listed, and this will grow as more truly plastic-free materials are developed.”
At press time, the landing page for the site showed a sampling of the case studies and material listings within; users must subscribe to the site at a cost of £250 per year, or approximately US$300. Among the “Latest Inspiration” case studies in plastic-free packaging were a glass jar for JOI Plant Milk concentrates, a refillable aluminum case for Sans London natural deodorant, and a mycelium-based package for MRBAILEY + ADIDAS footwear. Among the eight “Trending Materials” were algae, bamboo, aluminum, and The Fibre Bottle from Cullen.
The reception from designers to the site has been extremely enthusiastic. Says Jos Harrison, global head of Brand Experience & Design at Reckitt Benckiser Group, “There are few things more exciting to a designer than finding the combination of like-minded passion and depth of expertise. PlasticFree combines these attributes in a platform that will empower teams of designers inside and outside our organization—and across the industry; this can only be a good thing—supercharging the unique capacity of designers to imagine and improve the future.”
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To spread the word on PlasticFree, APP attended the World Economic Forum at Davos, hosted an event, Incredible Future NOW, at New York’s Parsons School of Design, and is partnering with design publication Dezeen. It also plans to attend some of the most prominent design events in the world over the coming year.
“Our events will remind those in attendance that creatives have always had an unparalleled power and impact on the world. But the urgent need for this superpower to be ignited, inspired, and rechanneled into designing entire new systems has never been more needed,” says Sutherland. “Any future events will focus on catapulting the industry into this new world of infinite possibility, reinvigorating the industry to use visionary skills to rethink everything.”