Case Study SA01: Radical Plastics

Space Available is a creative platform and ecological design studio on a mission to create a circular future. We create spaces, concepts, products and experiences based on the regenerative principles of the natural world.

Radical Plastics is our first case study.

Through it, we explore waste plastic as a circular material in an effort to make space for nature.


Plastic is everybody’s problem. Regardless of whether or not you use or purchase single-use plastic products, they continue to suffocate our land and waterways at  alarming rates. It’s estimated that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic debris in our oceans alone.

In some parts of the world, the plastic crisis is visible. In other places, it flies under the radar creating the illusion that the problem is under control. Sadly, it’s not and it affects us all. The truth is that many of the countries that consume the most plastic, simply aren’t recycling enough of it. TIME recently reported that in 2021, less than 6% of America’s plastic waste was recycled.

The rest of it ends up scattered across the planet – in landfills, through the soil and in our rivers and oceans where it breaks apart slowly, tainting the environment with toxins. These include bisphenols, phthalates, flame retardants and more, all of which affect our health in known and unknown ways.

So, plastic touches the entire ecosystem. It’s in the air, water and soil. It’s being absorbed by plants and eaten by animals – it’s even found its way into the human body. There’s now so much waste plastic on the planet that there’s no way we will see the end of it in our lifetime. And as its creators, it’s our responsibility to find solutions for the crisis we’ve created.

Our aim through this case study is to better understand the plastic emergency and unearth pathways for change. Being a creative studio, we’re choosing to do so via the mediums of design, bio-innovation and future craft. We want to find ways to draw attention to the problems of plastic as a new material, remove as much of it as we can from the environment, and give existing waste plastics a new purpose and a longer, less harmful life.

It’s time to get radical about plastics. 

  • Living in a plastic age

    Plastic (plas.tic) – Derived from the Greek word plastikos and Latin plasticus, meaning capable of being moulded or formed.

    Today when we hear the word ‘plastic’ we generally think of a group of materials called polymers. Polymers are part of the natural world. Cellulose, silk, and wool are examples of polymers that occur in nature – natural plastics, if you like. 

    The ironic thing about human-made plastic is that it was created as a replacement for natural materials such as ivory, tortoiseshell and horn. During the 19th century, these materials were highly prized and used to make everything from boxes to billiard balls and cutlery. Eventually, however, these resources became scarce and manufacturers turned to chemistry for solutions. 

    One of the first manufactured plastics, Parkesine, was introduced to the world at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. It was made from cellulose nitrate. A few years later, American inventor John Wesley Hyatt developed the more commercially viable celluloid in response to a $10,000 prize for anyone who could create a substitute for ivory. This material transformed the manufacturing landscape and was celebrated as the saviour of the natural world. 

    In the 20th Century, fully synthetic plastics made their way into our lives. Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland was the mind behind Bakelite – a combination of formaldehyde and phenol, brought together using heat and pressure with no molecules from nature. Bakelite was easy to mass-produce and made products such as telephones, radios and cameras vastly more accessible to the common consumer. From this moment onwards, product culture was changed forever. 

    Over the years, human-made plastics have continued to evolve. There are now seven key synthetic plastics in the world: 

    1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE or Polyester)

    Lightweight. Food jars, beverage bottles and polyester clothing. 

    2 – High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

    Strong, moisture resistant. Food and cleaning product packaging, toys, pipes.  

    3 – Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC or vinyl)

    Strong, chemical resistant. Tech, piping, medical equipment, credit cards, IV bags. Can leach lead, dioxins and vinyl chloride. 

    4 – Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

    Soft, flexible. Cling-wrap, disposable drinking cups, zip-lock bags, plastic bags. 

    5 – Polypropylene (PP)

    Common, durable. Nappies, packaging, straws. 

    6 – Polystyrene (PS)

    Inexpensive, insulative, contains the neurotoxin styrene.Take-away packaging, product packaging, construction.

    7 – Other plastics 

    Combination plastics. Typically unrecyclable. CDs, baby bottles, plastic cutlery. 

    These plastics serve our modern lives in many ways. Most of us wouldn’t know how to exist without them. It can be argued that synthetic plastics may have prevented some animals from becoming extinct. In some cases, they may have replaced paper, saving large numbers of trees from being logged. They may have also revolutionised the way we eat and drink, reducing food wastage and the occurrence of certain illnesses. But while plastics have been temporarily helpful in the fields of science, medicine, logistics, packaging and more, they’ve also been pivotal in the global culture of convenience, consumerism and overconsumption. An estimated 50% of plastics are made to be used once and thrown away. And most of them are harmful to the planet and to our health. 

    Our challenges today are to reduce our reliance on plastic, remove and repurpose the plastics already polluting our environment, and find sound circular solutions for the replacement of plastic in our modern lives. 

  • The problems with plastic

    There’s too much of it and we keep producing more. From 2000 to 2019, global plastic production doubled to 460 million tonnes.  

    It contains toxic additives for colour, malleability, durability and other desired characteristics. Many of these chemicals are known to be hazardous for human health.

    It doesn’t disappear. It breaks into smaller and smaller pieces which leach harmful chemicals into the environment and our bodies. 

    Most plastics are made from nonrenewable raw materials such as oil and gas. The process of extracting these materials alone can be harmful for the natural world. 

  • Plastic People

    In March 2022, The Guardian reported that microplastics have been detected in human blood for the first time. It stated that in a study published by science journal Environment International, microplastic pollution was present in almost 80% of people tested. The true impact of this phenomenon on our health remains unknown. 

    What we do know, however, is that this can’t be good news. Previous studies have found that microplastics expose us to contaminants such as heavy metals, additives, pharmaceuticals and pesticides which have been linked to illnesses and diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, developmental issues, cardiovascular and reproductive challenges, endocrine disturbances and more. 

    One of the most concerning findings, perhaps, is that we could be consuming around five grams (about one credit card’s worth) of plastic per week. It’s in our food, air and water. It’s in the clothes we wear, the furnishings and fabrics in our offices and homes, the toys that our children play with – it’s inescapable. 

    Our radical exposure to plastics is turning us into plastic people. In 2021, Environment International published a study on the “first evidence of microplastics in human placenta”. A more recent study detected airborne microplastics in living human lungs. Another article by The Guardian revealed that babies fed milk in plastic bottles were swallowing “millions of microplastics a day”

    The message here is clear: plastics are polluting our inner and outer worlds alike. This is a call-to-action that we can’t ignore. 

  • Plastic planet

    Whether it’s visible or not, we are living on a plastic planet. Microplastics have been detected as far down as the Mariana Trench (the deepest part of the ocean) and as high-up as Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world. Not even the sea ice of Antarctica is immune from the implications of our plastic addiction. 

    According to a study by Science of the Total Environment, the surface waters and coastal sediments of all five continents are now contaminated with microplastics. These particles are consumed by the sea life we eat, ending up on our plates, and ultimately, inside our bodies. But microplastics aren’t the only concern – and human health isn’t either. Shopping bags and other flexible plastics entangle and kill hundreds-of-thousands of marine animals every year, not to mention the scores of land and sea creatures alike that are harmed as a result of plastic ingestion. 


    All five of the ocean’s circulating current systems, known as gyres, are accumulating masses of waste plastic – the largest and most renowned being The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) in the North Pacific Ocean. Much more than a patch, the GPGP is an ever-expanding entity with an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers. It’s made-up of everything from ship and oil-rig waste to factory waste, post-consumer trash (toothbrushes, mobile phones, bottles, etc.) and even micro-beads from the cosmetic products we wash down our bathroom drains. Some of the plastic in the patch is over 50 years old.

    Plastic ocean mapping technology helps us understand the scale and consequences of our plastic consumption. It can reveal “the journey of a single piece of buoyant plastic from the moment it is first released into the environment along a possible route it might follow to reach the ocean”. This helps maximise clean-up initiatives, but it also offers a grim projection of the plastic crisis going forward. Images of the growing GPGP between 1982 and 1998 reveal the terrifying accumulation and growth of waste plastics in the North Pacific gyre. Today, it’s a monster almost double the size of Texas, or three times the size of France – and it’s not getting any smaller. 


    The plants are turning plastic, too. A study published by Nature Nanotechnology shows that plants can actually absorb plastic particles through their roots affecting the development of seedlings and impacting natural growth. Micro- and nano-plastics are now being found in fruits and vegetables growing in contaminated agricultural soil – plastic produce contributing to the toxic-load of a poisoned generation. 

    Here are some of the latest waste plastic statistics, collated and published by Seed Scientific in March 2022. 

    Plastic wastage is growing at an annual rate of 9%.

    One million marine animals die due to plastic pollution every year. 

    75% of all plastic produced has become waste.

    It takes around 500-1000 years for plastics to break down. 

    Nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced every year. 

  • Purposeful plastic

    As creatives, our mission is to address the plastic problem through design, communications and collaborations. These are our areas of expertise and how we intend to serve. 

    While our ultimate goal is to move away from plastics – switching to nature-based materials wherever we can – we can’t ignore the waste plastics that already exist and need to be repurposed in a way that prevents further harm. There’s now enough plastic in the world to last us a lifetime and beyond. What can we do with it? 

    We can make it purposeful by creating systems where waste plastic is collected and turned into useful, long-lasting products that can be recycled into new items if need be. This approach reincorporates waste back into our lives, prevents it from causing more damage in nature and starts wider conversations around the issue as a whole. So, we’re not glorifying plastic – we’re making the most of existing materials, at the same time raising awareness in the hope that we can help find sound solutions for a healthier world. 


    We live in a universe of circular systems. In the natural world, almost everything that exists serves its purpose then takes on a new form. Take water, for example, which falls as rain, feeds the earth and waterways and evaporates to become clouds and droplets once again. Our own bodies, too, are designed to decompose at the end of their lives, returning to the earth as minerals. 

    Circular design systems are drawn from the regenerative processes of nature. These practices keep a product’s lifecycle as long and sustainable as possible – from extraction to manufacturing, first use and recycling. Put simply, this way of thinking is based around the notion that waste shouldn’t exist. 

    Modern design systems are predominantly linear, meaning products are being made to last a certain amount of time before being deemed as waste. This model is unsustainable for a number of reasons – the first being that raw materials are finite in nature, the second being that it results in large amounts of waste that pollutes the planet, the third being that it encourages us to consume at far-from-sustainable rates. In short, linear thinking is harmful for the greater good of the Earth and needs to be transformed. 


    Inspire a new system change. We create designs, ideas and form collaborations based on environmental challenges and new world materials.

    Source materials locally. We work with partners such as Robries, Sungai Watch and Sober Denim to source local materials. Space Available is currently developing a plastic recycling lab with the help of the Robries team.

    Bring craft into the future. We do this by working with local artists, artisans and techniques wherever possible. This encourages the preservation of traditional art forms, innovated only by the use of new world materials which work within our circular system.  

    Create products on a made-to-order basis. To avoid generating excess.

    Package products using a zero-waste approach. All our packaging materials are either biodegradable, upcycled or can be reused. 

    Nothing becomes waste. If a Space Available product reaches the end of its life cycle, it can be repaired or recycled into another useful item in our Lab. 

    Make space for nature. As well as removing waste from the environment, we regenerate it by supporting initiatives such as tree-planting and forest protection.

Radical Plastic Works

Our explorations of waste plastic as a circular design material have resulted in a series of Space Available Studio works and collaborations. So far, our projects have prevented over two million bottle caps from becoming waste.


Space Available - Works - Record Vinyl Box

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