Recycled polymer materials

Recycled polymers can broadly match the technical properties of new polymers, but it is very difficult to remove colour pigments. Consequently, recycled polymers tend to be green, brown or black,, and these dark coloured pigments have been added to ‘mask’ the original pigments. An alternative strategy is to design the materials to be interesting mixed colours. This approach was developed by Jane Atfield at the Royal College of Arts in the early 1990s and such materials are now marketed by Smile Plastics Ltd. (http://www.smile-plastics.co.uk). Similar materials have been developed by Yemm&Hart in the US (http://yemmhart.com). Some examples of materials available from Smile Plastics are shown below. These materials are comparatively expensive to produce and are consequently likely to be more expensive than alternatives you might select.

Material: HDPE bottle range type A.
Made of: HDPE bottles
Characteristics: ‘Marbled’ effect due to low colour content. Good optical qualities in thin sheet.
Material: HDPE bottle range type B.
Made of: HDPE bottles
Characteristics: Pastel effect due to low strong colour content. Good optical qualities in thin sheet.
Material: HDPE bottle range type E.
Made of: HDPE bottles
Characteristics: Low naturals (white/clear) content gives strong colour density. Good optical qualities in thin sheet.

Material: HIPS range type CH.
Made of: HIPS coat hangers.
Characteristics: Leopard skin/tortoise shell appearance. Opaque.

Material: HIPS range type CC.
Made of: HIPS coffee cups.
Characteristics: Mocha and white mottled appearance, slight wood grain effect in some areas. Opaque.

Material: HIPS range type Y.
Made of: HIPS yoghurt pots.
Characteristics: Light marbled appearance including small flakes of aluminium from the rims that add interest. Opaque.

Examples of materials available from Smile Plastics Ltd (Mansion House, Ford, Shrewsbury, SY5 9LZ. Tel: (01743) 850267. Fax: (01743) 851067.

Some issues that the design must address
• the design must be for a market with high added value
• either, the finish of the product must exploit the mixed colours and textures available from recycled polymer materials
• or, a finishing method appropriate to the market must be used
• the best designs will exploit the natural qualities of recycled polymers
• the styling must be targeted towards the high end of the market
• the product must be fashionable
• the design and quality of the detailing must reflect the sophistication expected of expensive products


The following photographs illustrate the design problem. The first design is for an electric violin, but electric cellos and guitars have also been successfully designed and made. In this case, recycled high impact polystyrene (HIPS) was used. This can be adhesively bonded and finished with conventional spray paints. The design exploits the voids often found within recycled polymer sheets formed by thermoforming, which are acoustically advantageous. (Recycled polymers processed in other ways would not have such voids).

The second design shows how the variegated nature of the recycled polymers can be exploited in a garden environment, where all the surrounding vegetation is also variegated. The recycled polymers look more natural than a single, new monocolour polymer! This design was made from recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE)

Further designs can be seen on the Department of Design and Technology’s website.


If A or AS students were exploring designs using recycled polymers, then they should be encouraged to develop their own ideas before looking at this site.

They can be used as an introduction to the open-ended brief “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. or the specific recycling design context on ” Designerly recycling: high added value”

A recycled polymer violin designed by a Loughborough student - John Vann - for stage use in 1999

A love seat designed for gardens in 1999 by a Loughborough University student - James Duder

Loughborough subjects
Design Contexts
Developing design briefs
Images to stimulate students’ thinking (images still to come)
Advice on finding clients
Generic design contexts
Advice on specific design briefs
CAT specific design briefs
Loughborough University specific design briefs
ITDG specific design briefs
CAT support information
Loughborough University support information
ITDG support information