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Supercyclers! - Plastic Fantastic and Not So Fantastic

21st April, 2011
Jenny Butler
Thursday 21st April 2011

On Monday Sarah K and Liane Rossler gave us an easy project to make with those dreadful plastic bags - fantastic! Today we meet some more people from around the globe who are making fantastic things from plastic - but we also see the not so fantastic side; where 50 years of plastic is building up like a rubbish tip in the ocean. Thank you to Sarah and Liane for the insight into what is really happening. AND don't miss the hilarious video at the bottom of the post! - Jenny x

Plastic Fantastic and not so fantastic.

We thought these little plastic bag vases we made looked like the seas on our planet. We don’t like to see the seas being filled with plastic, so here are some things you can do rather than throwing it away. Because there is no away.

In the top left is the cover from Life Magazine 1955 entitled 'Throwaway Living'. The headline was Oh Joy, Oh Bliss! Disposable products were an innovative way to make life easier.

But in the 50 or so years since it was invented, look what has happened.

We've found that there are huge garbage patches of plastic swirling around in the oceans. It is estimated that the gyres are more than 15 million square kilometers and 100 metres deep, thick with plastic sludge and still growing. The more than 100 million tons of plastic that are circulating are about 2.5% of all plastic items made since 1950.

Almost all the plastic that has ever been made is still around somewhere on the planet today. You can imagine what all the fish and birds (and we) are eating.

Best of all is to avoid disposable plastics, and rather than throw it into landfill, here are some crafty things you can do with plastic to make it fantastic.

(Top left) Flying rubbish. Re-think re-cycle re-delight by Holger Beisitzer. The artist has reinterpreted ubiquitous plastic bags by filling them with helium, and appreciating the everyday beauty of these ‘balloons’. Passing children in particular loved them and stopped by for a little bit of everyday joy.

(Top right) These beautiful flowers were crocheted from plastic bags by Cheryl Adams and a group of Filipino women. They were shown at Craft Victoria in the World of Small Things exhibition. Read about the bat people and more goodness here.

Hundreds of billions of plastic bags are used each year. Of that, just 3% are recycled and the rest end up in our environment or in landfill. Some more plastic bag facts here.

Before Plastic Fantastic, Liane made plastic bags beautiful with Knitty Gritty + Loopy. Hundreds of baskets (bottom row) were made from plastic waste and thousands of bags were saved from landfill. Old plastic bags, bread and fruit bags, newspaper and dry cleaning wrap, garbage bags, mattress wrap... no bit of plastic was safe. Young and old, experienced and newbies – came together to weave, crochet, knit and plarn up a storm, share skills, have fun and save waste.

In the top left corner is Gulp by Tim Fishlock. Tim says ‘Gulp is three thousand translucent drinking straws interwoven to form a dense, spherical lampshade. Made from one continuous length of interconnected straws, you could – if you possessed Dyson-like suction – put one end in a drink and gulp it down through the other. Each piece takes seven days to make and is made to order’.

Straws are best avoided - such a short journey for your drink to go from your glass or bottle to your mouth, and the straw will live longer than a lifetime.

Artist Koji Ryui (top right) sees the possibilities in everyday items and transforms them into loveliness, like this sculpture made from plastic straws.

The amazing Plastiki (bottom row) sailed from San Francisco to Sydney, and was made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. More than 12,000 of them.  It was an inventive and innovative use of the material, and it its journey highlighted the great Pacific garbage patch and ocean pollution.

The cup that lives longer than you do. Each year we throw away hundreds of millions of Styrofoam cups. Even 500 years from now, the foam coffee cup used this morning will be sitting in landfill. Some people say it never decomposes.

Artist Tara Donovan uses everyday manufactured materials such as Styrofoam cups, sticky tape and drinking straws to create large scale sculptures that often have a biomorphic quality. Donovan chooses the material before she decides what can be done with it. She noted in an interview that she thinks "in terms of infinity, of the materials expanding."

It’s a much better use to get rid of existing cups, rather than just using them for a few minutes and then dumping them in landfill.

During Art and About, Michelle McCosker  and a group of artists dressed Sydney Statues in costumes made from recycled materials. Here, Queen Victoria is wearing a head dress and cape made from recycled plastic bags. Chic no? You can read about the project here.

But if you are a Supercycler in a rush, just don your plastic bag and get this chic look.

- Sarah K + Liane Rossler

"Ban bags made of plastiiiiiiccc!" Yeah!

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email