Seeing plastic as an opportunity at the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic

Plastic, it’s an environmental problem. At the same time, it is indispensable. We use it for medical products, in cars and the latex paint on our walls. Plastic cannot simply be ignored. “People quickly think of a doomsday scenario in which plastic is primarily the problem, but it is also an opportunity,” says curator Leonne Cuppen, “To see that opportunity, we need to look at plastic differently.” During DDW, the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic will show what is possible to do with plastic in a surprising and stimulating way, how to deal with it better, and the possible alternatives.

Type Update
Published on 16 September 2021
Seeing plastic as an opportunity at the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic
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“We are going to outdo ourselves again in this second edition”, says Cuppen. “There is so much to see.” Yksi Expo, a platform for promoting sustainable design, is the Embassy’s permanent home. People could mainly discover the Embassy’s work virtually last year, but during DDW21, you’ll be able to admire a new selection of projects at the Yksi Expo with your own eyes. Designs that will make you aware of what else you can use plastic for, such as fixtures that function as shelters or nests for flora and fauna in public spaces. 

Or designs that show how to reuse plastic, such as the trainers with chewing gum soles, or the cladding made of old plastic frames, downpipes and rain gutters. Or dive into the world of reusable raw materials, where you will find household appliances made from nettles. You also see how designers use nature to create something new, such as yarn made from algae. 

Cuppen has been in the design world for some time now. For about 25 years, she was a ‘hard core’ furniture and interior designer, as she calls it, but she’s stopped doing that. “There are so many good designers, but there are fewer people who pass on their expertise to the new generation.” She wants to help young designers and started the company Yksi Connect, which links young talent to the business community, among other things.


Her interest also increasingly shifted to the subject of ‘circularity’. “I’ve always wanted to create designs that matter. When I started in 1990, circularity was not an issue at all. Then it was mainly the more, the better. During that period, I already regularly made products from recycled materials. Products that had a good story to tell. At a certain point, my main concern was to combine the economic interest with the ecological interest.”

The curator has seen that companies are increasingly interested in circularity and sustainability these days. “I want to help companies on their way there.” Designers can help with this, says Cuppen

. “You need people who can think outside the traditional way of doing things. I think that designers have taken on a different role in recent years by being much more involved at the front of the process. Not only at the end for nice packaging, a good slogan or a graphically beautiful design.”
— Leonne Cuppen

The idea for Rethinking Plastic arose about three years ago Searious Business, Dutch Design Foundation en Yksi Expo realised an exhibition with plastic-related products for World Ocean Day. “That was about sixty objects, which we had selected in a short time. They were on display for three weeks. There was so much spin-off and interest that we wanted to do more with it. Plastic triggers something in people.” 

In-depth programmes

This was followed by DDW19, where an area of 50 square meters was set up, with curated plastic-related designs. “That gave me such a boost. We said to each other: ‘If we want to highlight this subject well, we have to do it for a longer period of time.’ Not only with an exhibition, but also with all kinds of in-depth programmes.”

In addition to the main exhibition, the results of four of those in-depth programmes can be seen. Rethinking Plastic House, set up with Brightlands – the innovation campus of Limburg -, shows innovations with plastic. For your bathroom, kitchen, living room and bedroom. 

The in-depth programme with TNO revolves around the processing method developed by TNO: Torwash. Designers were challenged to develop new materials that could be broken down into raw materials by Torwash. “You design something that you can take apart at the end of its life cycle.” 

The Rethinking Plastic Academy was also launched together with Koning Willem I College and SintLucas. In February, students started working on the theme Rethinking Plastic. Yksi Connect and the Yksi Expo Young Talent Team guided the students. A jury assessed the final results, and a selection of those results can be seen during DDW. 

Yksi Connect working together with the Stokroos Foundation, supervises five young talents from the Yksi Expo Young Talent Team. The designers receive coaching and come into contact with the right manufacturers, institutions and experts. They also get a workplace at Yksi Expo. Their process and final results can also be admired during DDW in the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic.

3.5 billion-year-old micro-mechanisms

Of all the beauty on display, Cuppen calls the work of Saint Martin’s London graduate Cinzia Ferrari a must-see. This young designer shows how she makes a new material with 3.5 billion-year-old micro-mechanisms. 

A new kind of yarn from old materials

Or Chrysalis by Jessica den Hartog and Michelle Baggerman. Together with the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (AMIBM), these designers developed a new type of yarn from old packaging materials. The title of their project refers to the cocoon of a caterpillar: man has created a new nature and must learn to reuse it. 

In addition to an exhibition space, the Embassy of Rethinking Plastic hosts various events, such as debates and lectures. A complete overview is coming soon!

3,5 miljard jaar oude micro-mechanismen

Van al het moois dat er te zien is, noemt Cuppen het werk van de net van Saint Martin’s, in Londen, afgestudeerde Cinzia Ferrari, als een must see. Deze jonge ontwerper laat zien hoe zij met 3,5 miljard jaar oude micro-mechanismen een nieuw materiaal maakt. 

Een nieuw soort garen van oude materialen

Of het werk Chrysalis van Jessica den Hartog en Michelle Baggerman. Deze ontwerpers ontwikkelden samen met het Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (AMIBM) een nieuw type garen van oude verpakkingsmaterialen. De titel van hun project verwijst naar de cocon van een rups: de mens heeft een nieuwe natuur geschapen en moet leren om die te hergebruiken. 

Naast een expositieruimte zijn er in de Embassy of Rethinking Plastic verschillende evenementen, zoals debatten en lezingen. Kijk voor een compleet overzicht hier.

Leonne Cuppen
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