Mimi McPartlan, USA | Photo credit: Eeva Suorlahti

From Wastebins to Galleries: Innovative Student Designs Using Coca-Cola Recyclables

What do a pair of shorts, a floor lamp and a fruit basket have in common? They are all made from plastic Coca-Cola crates, by design students in Finland. Recently, Coca-Cola challenged a group of 16 international students from the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture to put 2,000 Coca-Cola crates to new use during an experimental design course. The crates were cut, melted, pressed and pulverized, turning them into all sorts of imaginative new objects.

Plastic has become an essential part of everyday modern life. Many industries are now completely dependent on plastics, to ensure high quality, safety of products as well as prevent them from spoiling. Of course, we now face an uphill battle with recycling waste that needs to be addressed immediately in order to unleash the true potential of plastics.

By far the most sustainable solutions for preventing post-consumer waste is through recycling. The innovations in recycling technology can dramatically increase the possibilities for using recycled plastic in new products, and for making recycled plastic as valuable a material as new plastic.

The value of recycled plastic lies at the heart of the Coca-Cola Company’s circular economy. The idea is to increase the efficiency of a material, allowing it to do its job with fewer resources, keeping it in use as long as possible. Making material fully recyclable doesn’t just make it good for the earth, but maximizes its essential economic impact.

Yang Ting-Jhen, Taiwan | photo credit: Eeva Suorlahti

With this project, Coca-Cola wants to involve the next generation of artists, designers and entrepreneurs in the circular economy. The students let their imagination run wild, resulting in a host of creative products and uses of materials. Some students turned melted plastics into thin, cloth-like fabrics. Other creations included a floor lamp, a seat cover, a room divider a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, all made entirely from plastic. A few students were even inspired to create a musical soundtrack — “the sound of plastics” — with an accompanying video installation.

Anna van der Lei, university lecturer contemporary design at Aalto University, says: “These creations show the infinite possibilities of plastic if you put your mind to it. This course has been a celebration of creativity, with Coca-Cola red as the running thread.”

Coca-Cola has been a forerunner in the use of recycled plastics in packaging, and was one of the first companies to introduce recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in its new plastic packaging. Coca-Cola bottles are made of PET, which is the most widely-recycled plastic in the world. On average, a Coca-Cola bottle in Europe today comprises 30% recycled material.

Coca-Cola is also utilizing renewable sources for new plastic materials. In 2009, the Coca-Cola Company was the first business to introduce PlantBottleTM, a fully recyclable PET bottle partially made from renewable plant-based material. In Finland, this type of Coca-Cola bottle now comprises 50% of all recycled PET plastic and 15% plant-based PET plastic.

Plastic can be an extremely valuable material, even after its original use, but greater awareness of the need for its sustainable consumption and responsible disposal is still needed. Coca-Cola encourages consumers to recycle plastic after use through local collection systems. For example, In Finland, 95% of all plastic beverage bottles in are now collected and recycled. For Europe as a whole, this figure is 71%.

Camilo Cortes, Colombia | photo credit: Eeva Suorlahti

While plastic can of course be recycled into new bottles, its post-recycling uses are endless. Plastic has been repurposed in accessories, tableware, furniture, clothing, carpets and much more! But, in order to help ensure a demand for recycled plastic, Coca-Cola supports the creation of new products made from recycled material.

Innovation and design are instrumental in solving the challenges of reducing and reusing materials, new collection and recycling models, and to find new uses for these renewable and recycled materials. Most importantly, design has a huge role to play in determining how to turn material that is generally considered to be garbage into valuable products that consumers actually want.

The students’ works is compiled into a collective library. This open-source bookletillustrates 100 sample uses of recycled plastic, with descriptions of the methods and tools used. It is aimed to serve as a source of inspiration for future students, and the cover is made from Coca-Cola crates. All works will be on display from September 11 to 17 during Helsinki Design Week.

The future of plastic begins on the designer’s drawing table. Today, designers are key to unlocking almost limitless potential for innovation and turning the knowledge of this single-use material into a new and desired commodity that will benefit the world.

Ulrike Sapiro, Director of Sustainability, The Coca-Cola Company

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