Recycled polymer materials

Plastics are extensively recycled in many countries, with 41% of households in the UK having access to plastics recycling facilities. But what can we do with all this recycled material? Few companies are currently using recycled plastics for anything but very low grade products, yet there is huge potential. Further information can be found on the RECOUP (RECycling Of Used Plastics) website (http://www.recoup.org.uk).

An example is the millions of polypropylene sacks, which are discarded every year and currently landfilled. Such sacks are used to carry significant loads eg as the letters and parcels to be delivered by The Post Office and other companies, and for the delivery of building sand. When postal sacks are worn out they are discarded, and the bags used for sand deliveries are typically used only once. Because they are woven fibres, the materials are difficult to recycle, but they remain strong textile-like materials.

Interesting examples of designs made from recycled materials can be found at http://www.designresource.org. These designs were entered by school, college, university and professional designers in the IDRA competitions, which have been run since 1995.

Some issues that the design must address

• the design should use the materials essentially in the form in which they are found
• the designs should target markets which might use significant quantities of materials e.g house and garden products, sporting equipment etc
• acceptable styling for UK households
• acceptable cost to UK households based on market research concerning competing products
• design suitable for UK manufacture
• appropriate selection of any additional materials used in order to make eventual disassembly and recycling of the product strraightforward

This cartoon illustrates some of the key issues concerning recycling polymers and first appeared in New Designer (volume 1, issue 1) illustrating an article by Dick Heath (a Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Polymer technology and Material Engineering). The advantages of reusing the materials as they are are evident.


The following photographs illustrate the design problem. In 1997 Year 2 Loughborough design students were presented with a ‘small pile’ (approximately a ‘skip full’ of damaged postal sacks). This was a three week project in which they brainstormed ideas and designed and made prototypes. Two of their ideas are shown below and more can be seen on the Department of Design and Technology’s website.


If A or AS students were looking at possible designs using polypropylene webbing, 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 ” Reusing materials: avoiding landfill”

The ‘Post Pac’ (a replacement ‘Jiffy Bag ‘) designed by Loughborough University students - Jim Leeper, Nick Spence, Bruce Wheatley and Barry Yearsley in 1996

A carrying file made from damaged postal sacks designed by Loughborough University students - Richard Johnson, Rho Keen, Jon Richards and Cath Pearson in 1996

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