Interview with Pascal and Daniela Becher, founding members of plastikfabrik
Exclusively for K-MAG
Source: katalin gyurasics/Unsplash
Plastic is a versatile material that can be used for a wide variety of projects. What's more, it is reusable and can be given new forms – so it can be given a second life in the sense of the circular economy. In the plastikfabrik in Saarbrücken (Germany), Daniela and Pascal Becher breathe such a second life into plastic.
The two are convinced that innovative ideas can be created not only in large laboratories, but also in the private sphere – for example in the plastikfabrik. There they design new and practical objects from old plastic – and everyone is welcome to make a difference themselves in terms of the circular economy.
Pascal and Daniela Becher; Source: plastikfabrik
Please explain briefly what the plastikfabrik is.
Pascal and Daniela Becher: The plastikfabrik is essentially a creative workshop. Here we develop recyclable design products from recycled plastic together with changing designers, artists, researchers and other people who are motivated to make a difference. We first test the products in small series to see if they are suitable for the market. Later, larger productions go to regional companies. Our goal is to get as much plastic as possible out of the linear system and into the Circular Economy – and to keep it there.
How did you come up with the idea for this project?
Becher: It was a process. Sustainability has played a central role in our lives for a long time. Then last winter we spent a lot of time at home – like everyone else. And that's when the decision matured to do more than just get our own CO2 mix in order. We did a lot of research and tried out a lot of different things. During our search, we also came across the global "Precious Plastic" movement. We were totally inspired by their approach. We are convinced that a future worth living for future generations on our planet cannot function without an efficient waste recycling economy. The plastic problem in particular is huge. Waste plastic litter our oceans, mountains and cities – the whole planet. And the burning of plastic also damages the climate. Yet plastic is basically a high-quality material. This is where we wanted to start, and so the idea of the plastikfabrik was born.
How can you imagine working in the plastikfabrik – the word "factory" sounds like fixed structures and processes at first.
Becher: The name plastikfabrik is definitely a term of art. Of course, we are not a large factory with huge industrial plants. But with our model we are entering an area that is primarily reserved for such production facilities. We don't have any fixed structures and processes. We are still a young project and find it exciting to play with concepts. But we also use classic prototyping methods such as digital 3D modelling, manual techniques, carpentry with jigsaws, routers and so on. We love working haptically with the materials. The prototypes are sometimes created at home, sometimes in a coworking space in the city of Saarbrücken, sometimes at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (HBK). We are currently working on a cooperation project with students there.
Among other places, plastikfabrik members meet at co:hub66, a coworking space in Saarbrücken. Source: co:hub66
What products do you design at plastikfabrik and what products are you planning to add in the future?
Becher: We are on the move in interior design. For us, it is crucial that all products are always developed holistically in the sense of a circular economy. The plastic material consists of 100 per cent recycled material, the products are designed strictly with recycling in mind. The material remains pure, nothing is glued or similar. The products are always multi-use products, that means they can be used in many different ways. Broken parts can also be replaced. And at the end of the life cycle, we are happy to take the products back and recycle them again.
One of our first products will be a modular seating system that we are particularly proud of. It consists of stools and a bench and is made as a plug-in system from recycled plastic sheets. This means that it remains unmixed and can also be freely combined. The stool can be a table, the legs of the bench can be used for the stools and vice versa, and so on. The "flat pack furniture" system also ensures environmentally friendly shipping; and if you want space in the house, you can dismantle and store it in a few seconds. In times of shrinking living space, flexibility is important.
A 100 per cent recycling of the material is our top priority, and this is exactly what the current project with the HBK is aiming at. The offcuts that are produced during furniture production are used for other products; in the last step, the material is shredded and processed into new products using the injection moulding process.
You are still paying for the project out of your own pocket - have you ever considered getting investors for the project?
Becher: Of course. The project is a matter of the heart, we are not primarily interested in high sales. We really want to achieve something for environmental protection and also for people's green awareness! We would be absolutely open to talks with an investor who shares this mindset.
What projects do you want to implement there in the future?
Becher: We have many ideas for the future. For example, it would be super exciting to produce our own plastic records in cooperation with a record manufacturer. There is a lot of potential for creativity here! We also find a rental model appealing and are thinking about trying it out. There is already an end in the word "end customer" – and we stand for circulation!
What do you want to achieve with your work in the plastikfabrik for yourself, but also for your environment?
Becher: Our goal is, of course, to pull as much plastic as possible out of the linear system into a circular system. We are aware that our work here is only a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless, we would like to make a contribution to raising awareness about circular economy, recycling and environmental protection. In the longer term, we plan to offer workshops for schools and educational institutions to make knowledge tangible in practice and to inspire the next generation for this topic. After all, today's children are tomorrow's decision-makers.
What role do you think the commitment of private individuals on the one hand and the commitment of industry and companies on the other hand will play in the future when it comes to linking the topics of plastics and environmental protection?
Becher: Green awareness is increasing among the population, the topic of saving plastic is absolutely in line with the spirit of the times. In our opinion, private individuals can achieve a lot here. Social pressure is a driver for many companies to switch their packaging material to recycled material, for example, even though virgin material is much cheaper. The trick for consumers here is to distinguish truly sustainable products from greenwashing.
But it won't work without the action of industry and business. They have the greatest power to be climate killers or future savers.
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