Monday 9 May 2016

From Waste To Want: How Reflow Is Rewriting Our Attitude To Waste Plastic

Waste plastic. One of the environmental bĂȘte noires of the age. From the supermarket bag fluttering in a tree to the great reef of plastic floating in the Pacific, we use and discard so much of the stuff that it's gently piling up around our ears. It would seem to be a hopeless situation.

But if you look at the stockpiles of plastic waste as an opportunity rather than a problem, then things start to look a little different. By shredding and turning it into usable fibre, plastic waste becomes a commodity. Something with value.

We reported last week on Emma Watson's headline-making ensemble for the Met Ball, which was made by Calvin Klein from three different sorts of recycled plastic. Now Dutch social enterprise Reflow are aiming to take those innovations and apply them, with a bit of a twist, to the mass market.

Reflow aim to create durable filaments from PET waste that can be used in 3D printing–a field that has thousands of applications. Forward thinking fashionistas are already using the technology to produce complex designs for shoes, bags and jewellery that would be far too expensive to breathe by normal manufacturing methods.

There's an ethical element to the idea as well. Working with charities in Tanzania, Reflow plan to empower the lowliest workers in the supply chain–plastic pickers.

At the moment, the pickers are paid less than a pound a day for their labours. But by making the waste they collect into a desirable commodity, Reflow hope to roll the a chunk of the profits made from the manufacture of their filament back into the community. They will pay a fair wage for the materials the pickers supply. This will have the side-benefit of lifting them out of the poverty trap, and able to make a living for themselves.

Reflow's filament process is a significant step change from processes we've seen up to now, able to manufacture high volume at low cost. This is a very definite win-win for everyone. Who'd have thought that the plastic bag, one of the environmental villains of the modern age, could be seen as a useful, ethical way to help some of the poorest workers on the planet to make a dignified living?

For more, check out Reflow's website:

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