PlasticFree launches materials solution platform for designers

Designed by Made Thought, the platform lists over 100 plastic free materials which can be categorised by their properties and used to inform design and business decisions.

PlasticFree, a centralised platform built by designers to provide details of innovative plastic-free materials and system solutions, has now launched.

The platform’s Advisory Council includes as the likes of Thomas Heatherwick, Sir David Chipperfield and Tom Dixon. Its aim is to help designers and businesses cut down on one trillion pieces of plastic waste by 2025.

According to A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland, Unilever alone “pump out 46 billion plastic sachets every year”, so the prospect of providing “scalable and viable solutions” for more companies like it has the potential to make a huge impact.

A Plastic Planet was set up six years ago with the view of becoming a “trusted authoritative inspirational resource” to help designers think of news ways to eradicate plastic waste, says Sutherland. The organisation started to develop PlasticFree two years ago with a multidisciplinary team.

Unlike the plastic alternative encyclopaedia created by A Plastic Planet in 2019, Sutherland says PlasticFree is positioned as “a movement for change” that should encourage designers to be proactive in using their skills for good. It aims to go beyond materials, encouraging system changes as a primary solution, whether it’s relating to “permanent packaging, products designed to be dismantled, or reusables at scale”, she adds.

The platform has been designed by Made Thought, which has worked with A Plastic Planet since 2017. Sutherland says it was important to have “a creative agency of such calibre” working on the UX design because designers, being the primary audience, would have high expectations of it. Webfire is the technology partner responsible for the build of the platform.

The platform underwent two years of user testing via research groups, including CPGs such as Unilever, Pepsico, as well as design agencies. Following this, there was beta testing by PlasticFree’s audience. Sutherland explains that the platform “will never be “finished’” as such, because new content will upload daily, the My Workspace collaborative areas, will “evolve” and other platforms such as Miro (an online whiteboard tool) and computer aided design software, will be “integrated”.

With over 100 materials listed on PlasticFree – and more to be added as they’re developed – Sutherland says it was designed to be “extremely easy and intuitive” in terms of site navigation. Materials are divided into two sections, the first being 100% plastic free, meaning it has passed the platform’s criteria and adheres to the EU definition of plastic free, and the second being transitional materials. Transitional materials are not truly plastic free, for examples some plant-based leather and bioplastics fall into this group, according to Sutherland.

Users can search for a material by its properties, such as waterproof, flexible, heatproof, if they have certain requirements. Sutherland says: “Our standard of Plastic Free is very high, which is important as designers need to trust that deep research has validated all materials”.

Extensive research also went into choosing case studies for the platform. A global editorial and research team search daily for innovative case studies, which aim to help prove that change is possible through material solutions. Sutherland adds that “there is no shortcut to creating trusted, relevant, fresh content”.

She describes the most challenging aspect of building the platform as “the constant push for transparency from materials and brands”, seeing through greenwash, and delivering the information to an audience that “prefers visuals to words”.

While designers, brand owners and creatives are PlasticFree’s primary target audience, Sutherland encourages “anyone who believes that that plastic crisis is directly connected to the climate crisis” and sees regenerative, circular design as a solution to subscribe.

Made Though founding partner Ben Parker says designers need to become more aware of plastic alternatives, because “to be an ill-informed creative is no longer forgivable”. He sees the platform as “a much-needed and overdue resource” as well as “a beautiful, considered, design-led experience”, which has the ability to create truly positive change.

PlasticFree will be shared at the World Economic Forum Davos, Switzerland which begins 16 January and then in New York on 2 February at Parsons School of Design as part of a wider call to action. The team behind it will also be present at other design focused events this year, such as Salone de Mobil Milan, New York Design Week and London Design Biennale.

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  • Paul January 13, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    And here was me hoping it would be a useful and open source program that could encourage designers to use more sustainable materials. Instead, most people will be priced out and continue using existing materials

  • Andrew Snowden January 23, 2023 at 9:20 am

    I think the idea behind this is brilliant. Shame all the goodness is hidden behind a membership paywall.

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