Plastic has been getting a lot of attention in the past 12 months.
The Science Museum’s Plasticity exhibition, which runs until next January, charts the evolution of plastic variants, examining its applications, and has, to some extent, revived interest in its relevance to designers.
Of all the plastics, expanded polystyrene is perhaps the least valued, given its lowly status as a filler for white- goods packaging.
However, a design competition launched last September by packaging group EPS is trying to change this perception by stimulating designers’ interest in its properties.
Launched to a fanfare in London’s Trafalgar Square with Tom Dixon’s polystyrene chair giveaway during last year’s 100% Design, the project has now come to fruition.
Ten winning concepts are being prototyped and will be exhibited at the 100% Futures event, which runs from 20-23 September.
Emerging product designer Benjamin Hubert says that he stumbled across the competition while already working with expanded polystyrene on some of his other designs.
‘I’m interested in the surface texture, the fact that [expanded polystyrene] is lightweight and that it moulds like injection-moulded plastic. The Tom Dixon chairs last year were great. It just shows what you can do. The whole thing was really clever, even if it was a PR stunt,’ says Hubert.
The competition brief, deliberately kept open in terms of usage and context, was to create a design that would exploit the lightweight, insulating and buoyancy qualities of the material, according to EPS spokeswoman and competition organiser Bridget Bouch.
Although the concepts that made the winning list were not entirely original, such as design lecturer Ken Newton’s drinks cooler, or architect Graham Lewis’s disaster-relief capsule, they demonstrated the most ‘intelligent use of the material’, according to Bouch.
The company is hoping that designer Michael Sodeau’s creation for the 100% Futures stand will make visitors sit up and take notice. Made entirely from expanded polystyrene, the stand will take the form of a white pod with blue lighting.
‘We’ve had to use 7m blocks of expanded polystyrene to create the stand. It’s very modern and backs on to the green room, where we’re hoping to catch traffic. The idea now is to get the prototypes picked up by a retailer to take to the marketplace,’ says Bouch.
EPS is keen to dispel what it claims are myths about the material, such as it being toxic when burnt, or that it is non-recyclable.
‘It is, in fact, no more toxic when burnt than wood. It is also 100 per cent recyclable. The problem is for businesses setting up [recycling] schemes. Most local authorities are reluctant to collect it because they have targets based on weight, and it just doesn’t make sense for them to collect something that’s so lightweight,’ says Bouch.
Ken Newton, design lecturer, UK
Michiel Knoppert, designer, US
Graham Lewis, architect, UK
Beanie safety hat
Dylan Banks, student, UK
Annemiek Pronk, designer, the Netherlands
Steve Gummer, designer, UK
Scott Wilson, designer, US
Benjamin Hubert, designer, UK
Richard Lawson, designer, UK
David Duncalfe, student, UK
EPS design competition judging panel included designer Tom Dixon; journalist Clare Dowdy; Claire Norcross, design manager at Habitat; and Tent director Jimmy MacDonald