How to Turn Trash Into Precious Plastic

Wed, May 06, 20

One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure, especially if that person has the ability of transforming trash into something stylish, functional and unique for your space. Upcycling, as a concept, is relatively new and has been around since the late 90’s. As a matter of fact, the word itself was voted for word of the year by the Cambridge Dictionary in 2019. 

Why has it become so popular? For starters, upcycling is a great way of revamping all those old objects lying around the house. We tend to keep those things that have some sort of sentimental value, even if they might look tired and dated. Stuffed animals, tables, lamps - you name it. A little bit of love (and paint!) is all it takes to turn those old objects into something new.

Upcycling helps people save a lot of costs, because it basically reuses what you already have. Now, besides the financial benefits, there are environmental ones. By reusing what’s already around you, you produce less waste. This, in the case of plastic, can be quite revolutionary. According to a Bloomberg news report, almost 80% of all plastic produced will end up in a landfill. What makes it worse, most of it isn’t biodegradable.

precious plastic

Single-use plastic currently accounts for 40% of plastic waste.

Wouldn't it be cool to find new, alternative uses to the plastic you find around the house? Instead of placing it in the trash bin, why not transform it? Meet your new home project: turning trash into precious plastic.

So, How Did Precious Plastic Start?

Dave Hakkens, the founder and creator of an open hardware plastic recycling project called Precious Plastic, inspired four Costa Rican women to set up their own recycling company. Wagat Upcycling Lab, their enterprise, is one of almost 400 projects that have used a recycling system that can be downloaded from the Internet.

The idea behind Hakkens’ initiative, which it’s currently undergoing it’s fourth iteration, is that anyone can recycle plastic and be part of the solution. Although it does require some time and experimentation, anyone interested may download the instructions and watch the videos. This is what makes precious plastic so alluring: anyone can do it.

In an interview to El Mundo, Montserrat Agüero, Ximena Montealegre, Daniella Musmanni and Diana Raven, founding partners of Wagat, stated: “We want to be a solution to combat the pollution of plastic on our planet and spread awareness about its use. What can we do with plastic that we cannot avoid? We have an answer: upcycling. That’s what Wágat Upcycling Lab is all about: turning recycled plastic into something functional.”

precious plastic

Wagat’s technique has been perfected through hard work, and this pot holder is a great example.

How They Do It

The girls from Wagat begin the process from carefully selecting and sorting the plastic to be used. The sorting process for recycling plastic, according to their website, “is quite involved.” It is so because they have to understand the type of plastic to be used, as well as the color and the state it’s in. Any sort of residue definitely influences how the plastic is going to behave.  

Once it is sorted by color, the plastic is washed to remove all labels and residue. If you’ve ever tried to remove a label from a bottle of fabric softener, you know how much time it takes to do it. In this process, plastic is washed several times using biodegradable chemicals and elbow grease. Washed plastic is then shredded in one of the machines that’s been designed by Hakkens, an activity that has been described by the people at Wagat as “oddly satisfying.” 

The shredded plastic is placed into an extruder that transforms the pieces into a malleable hot liquid strip. This is what they use to create their products: from plates and vases to recycling bins and fruit baskets. 

How Can You Do It

So, in order to start your own projects, you need to first understand what you want to do. If you’re up to the challenge and wish to set up your very own upcycling lab, you’re more than welcome to start browsing the precious plastic tutorials. However, if you’re thinking of something smaller… that’s possible too. 

precious plastic

Local Keeps also offers handbags from Stitch by Stitch, which are made from recycled fabrics.

First, look around your house. Pick up all those plastic bottles, plastic boxes and bags that have been gathering dirt for a while. Set them aside. What could work? What has no salvation? Are you already visualising a beautiful pink vase as your new centerpiece? Yes, you are. 

Remember:  A keen eye and an open, inventive mind is all it takes to start upcycling.

The most important rule for upcycling is preparation. Make sure it’s clean and free of any dust that might ruin the finishing touches. While you’re at it, remove any dangling pieces and mull down any rough edges with sanding paper. If your pieces, say, plastic boxes, have stains or watermarks, you can always use a primer before painting them. 

The more time you spend on any object, the nicer the end result will be. This is the most important lesson in upcycling. Browsing, selecting and preparing your projects will ensure great pieces… most of the time! As with most projects, failure is part of everything. Even if your project doesn’t turn out like you expected, there are important lessons you will have learned throughout that could be applied in the future.

And What Can You Do?

Plastic can be shredded, melted and turned into clothes, carpets and even furniture. However, if your intention is to use the plastic in its original state, all you require is a bit of inventiveness. You can fold, sew or weave pieces together to make lamps, purses or plant holders. 

precious plastic

Wagat fruit baskets have been made from recycled plastic. 

For those looking for a sustainable way to organise your kitchen counters, you can repurpose old bottles into snack containers to save some storage space. Plastic bottles can make adorable piggy banks, your own personal herb gardens and even a water filter! All you need is a pair of scissors and a lot of inventiveness. 

Remember that if you’re unable to make your own projects, regardless of whether they are simple or sophisticated, due to lack of time or any other issues, there are still ways you can make an impact. For starters, you can only purchase upcycled or recycled items for your home. If you can’t upcycle your own, make sure you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint in any other way you can.

You can find upcycled products at Local Keeps. Navigate our categories or write to us at galit@localkeeps.com if you have any questions!