The Value of Waste Material: Creating Products from Recycled HDPE Plastic

Li, Quanzhou
Feast, Luke
Nienhuis, Anke
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Master of Design
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Auckland University of Technology

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental problems in the world. Plastic creates substantial business opportunities and affords the design of innovative products. Plastic’s advantage is that it can be transformed into a wide variety of shapes and it is cheaper and more lightweight, waterproof and stable than many other materials. The leading cause of large-scale plastic pollution worldwide is the accumulation of non-degradable plastics, and New Zealand is no exception to this problem. Tempted by plastic’s high-value performance, designers often ignore that plastic is not naturally degradable. Therefore, there is an opportunity to improve plastic design and manufacturing methods to reduce environmental pollution by effectively upcycling plastic waste in New Zealand.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is most commonly used for milk packaging in New Zealand. The primary aim of this research project is to investigate design opportunities to upcycle HDPE plastic from discarded milk bottles. This research applied a product design approach to close the lifecycle loop and increase the plastic material’s lifespan.

The characteristics of HDPE plastics were explored through research and experimentation to find new applications for discarded HDPE, positively impacting the product industry. Discarded HDPE plastic bottles were shredded and reformed using heat and moulding production methods. One of the other goals of this design project was to create an appealing aesthetic with the HDPE plastic product. Both the pleasing aesthetic and easy remodelling characteristics of HDPE were advantageous in helping to turn the discarded HDPE into a low-cost but high-quality product. The material characteristics identified through extensive experimentation assisted in defining suitable production methods to create a sustainable product. This project aimed to create a product from the identified waste material that can benefit the university and its cafes, which is where the HDPE waste was originally created. Ideation in the form of sketching and prototyping and a human-centred design process were used to identify and refine suitable product opportunities.

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