Meet the designers turning old plastic straws into cutting edge building materials
Every day around eight million pieces of plastic find their way into our oceans, and more than 150 plastic bottles litter every mile of British beaches. These figures, from the Surfers Against Sewage charity, are a stark illustration of the costs to nature.
While more needs to be done to combat the root cause of waste, one of the main problems is how long plastic takes to break down. For the founders of Oltco, it’s this attribute that makes it so appealing to use.
The company produces environmentally-friendly flooring and driveways. It was founded by two friends who decided to combine their knowledge of materials and engineering, with their passion for the beach in their hometown of Newquay.
“As a kid, I used to spend every day on the beaches. But you can see that they have changed, there’s plastic everywhere,” says co-director Johnny Pearce. “Whatever generation you are in, you need to be responsible for the environment and we’re not doing a great job. We’ve got a chance to rectify it and I think if every business can do their bit then big changes can happen.”
Co-founder Tom Stringer stresses that it is the beach on their doorstep that has inspired them to keep going: “It’s something we’ve been talking about for three or four years, but we just didn’t know whether it would be possible.”
The company’s Recycle Bound solution is directly helping to alleviate the plastic problem in the UK. Made from waste including straws, bottles and food packaging, the brand’s flooring material incorporates plastic into its resin-bound blend, which is used for driveways, balconies and walkways. “There are so many single-use plastics in existence that loads of different processes need to be thought up that use these products within them,” says Pearce.
Sourced from a plastic recycling point, each 10 sq ft of Recycle Bound consists of the equivalent of around 3,000 plastic straws. To put that into context, if a client used it on a standard 500 sq ft drive, the equivalent of 150,000 waste plastic straws would be recycled in the process.
Oltco’s co-founders are not the only people in the design business tackling the country’s waste problems. Another inventor keen to boost sustainability in the building industry is Ellie Birkhead. With her project Building the Local, she worked with a brickyard in the Chiltern Hills to create bricks from local waste products while raising awareness of the dying trade of brickmaking.
Using glass bottles from a pub, wool and straw ash from a farm, grain from a local brewery and even hair from a salon, Birkhead mixed these waste products with clay to create bricks.
Another consequence is that the resulting bricks come with a sense of place: they are connected to where they were made, the colour reflecting the local clay. Ultimately they will be used to create buildings on the very ground from where they originated.
From human hair to food by-products – these young inventors are part of a movement of producers reconsidering the value of what is often dismissed as waste.
London-based designers Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll have also developed a series of products using waste – peelings supplied by frozen foods maker McCain. Their company Chip[s] Board uses the potato waste to create eco-friendly alternatives to single-use materials such as MDF and chipboard, as well as plastic.
“Currently we are focusing on a few different materials including Parblex, our plastic material, which is similar to acetate plastics used in fashion,” says Nicoll. “For someone to adopt a sustainable material [instead of their regular, mainstream one], it needs to be an easy transition so we want to make sure it’s right.”
It all takes time, something that Oltco discovered. Stringer developed the firm’s Recycle Bound solution over two years and it took a lot of strength testing and hard work to perfect. “The nature of who I am is someone who will always try to solve a problem,” he says. The friends were conscious that they wanted to produce a stylish product too, not simply a hair-shirted, super eco-friendly material.
After all, sustainable doesn’t need to mean boring, and the material is smooth and minimalist. As a testament to its high-end finish, the product now decks out new beach lodges at Carbis Bay Hotel in St Ives. Despite the high-quality design it’s accessible, available at the same price as material that is made from non-recycled products.
There is a movement taking place within design and materials for more sustainable practices. Soon we could see more local waste fed into all aspects of property, building and design. It’s this local aspect that Oltco is proud to keep pushing. “We are franchising now so that the changes we’re doing in Cornwall can be applied elsewhere in the country,” says Pearce.
Eventually, the co-founders hope to see their Oltco waste bins lining the beaches of coastal communities. “I’d love to watch the plastic being picked up off our local beaches to go straight into the product,” adds Pearce.
Image & Article Source: The Telegraph