Lancaster's UK flagship plastic recycling project profiled in new film
A new film has profiled the growing global movement in workshop based plastic recycling and high value manufacturing - all done by hand.
The Precious Plastic community has seen more than a 70 per cent increase in UK recycling teams in a year, expanding the potential for low-volume, high-value, ‘craft’ plastic re-purposing.
The UK’s flagship project, Precious Plastic Lancaster, has been profiled in the film, commissioned by The National Festival of Making as part of its Art In Manufacturing series, capturing a moment in time for the short history of plastic use and the possible first steps towards the hand-powered rehabilitation of plastic’s reputation.
The Festival of Making was co-founded by designer Wayne Hemmingway, originally from Morecambe, who also hosts the annual Vintage Festival in the town.
In July 2020, the Precious Plastic team in Lancaster produced a 100 per cent recycled 'no touch tool' to help people stay safe in a Covid world.
The film premiered on Global Recycling Day 2021, at a time when Precious Plastic teams in the UK has increased by 71 per cent since Covid-19 put the UK into lockdown in March 2020.
The nature of the movement as a community means that emerging teams are quickly effective as small businesses, taking advantage of other teams producing shredded plastic ready for
production, sharing blueprints for product moulds and advice on getting started.
Empowered by open-source machinery designs and blueprints for everything from recycling collection points and designs for production workshops, instigated by the global community's spiritual home and original Precious Plastic in Eindhoven, Holland, individuals and groups have been able to set up shop as low-volume, specialist plastic recyclers and, in some cases, such as Precious Plastic Lancaster, establish production lines for commercially viable products.
Timo Makower is the first full-time employee of Precious Plastic Lancaster, working on manual machinery to turn recycled plastics into products including £10 plant pots and soap dishes, all selling out quickly after going on the project’s online store.
The team has been able to "revalue" the plastic they receive, turning usually single use products into desirable, ‘forever’ homewares.
In 2020, the Lancaster team’s efforts, using similar machines to those that can be bought for just over £2,000 each, led to an 800 per cent increase in turnover with lockdown orders pouring in for their own brand, Relic.
Nathan Burley, part of a team of four including fellow founder, Martin Paley, says that Precious Plastic’s mission is given away in its name: “When something is ascribed no intrinsic value, such as modern plastics, then that is problematic.
"It’s a resource that is produced at cost, on numerous levels, simply to be thrown away.
"We can’t keep soap dishes on the shelves, likewise plant pots, so even at that transactional level, the project has turned something nobody wants into something everyone seems to want and pay £10 for the pleasure of owning it.”
Kiki Callihan, the fourth driving force in Precious Plastic Lancaster’s rapid development, is also poignantly captured by video producer, Phil Barber of Sodium Films in the video portrait of the Community Interest Company.
Callihan’s interview uncovers shocking statistics (“Just 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled”) as well as messages of hope as the true potential of plastic as a craft material is revealed.
"The group works to free the real potential in something so undervalued, by isolating and mixing colours to remarkable, conversation-starting effect.
Burley continues: “With the increase in the number of UK teams appearing on the Precious Plastic map, we can see that things are moving at a renewed pace to affect change and take advantage of the huge plastic problem we have.
Some of these groups are literally at the thinking stage, but others are already at an advanced stage and have become established in a very short period of time.”
Filmed in a typical workshop environment, giving a hint into the user-friendly, open-source processes that lie at the heart of the global movement’s ethos, the video offers a hint of the potential as the community continues to grow, with more than 500 Precious Plastic groups now pinned to the worldwide map.
Sodium Films have previously worked with Adidas to profile the launch and development of their aspirational recycling project, Futurecraft.Loop, aiming to integrate cyclical, reduced-waste manufacturing processes into global sportswear production.
On taking up the project with Precious Plastic Lancaster, Barber sensed the same ethos existed between Precious Plastic and Adidas, although at wildly different scales, saying: “We get involved in projects like this, because we believe in them. Having seen first-hand the challenges that Adidas are working to meet, trying to achieve mass production without use of virgin plastics, our first conversations made it clear that Precious Plastic Lancaster were talking about the same things.
"What we’ve observed is struggle, the things that go wrong and the failures in meeting the challenge of using fewer raw materials and reducing waste, but the film project with Precious
Plastic shows just what is possible with cooperation, care and a sense of community in solving problems.”
THE NATIONAL FESTIVAL OF MAKING
Established in 2017, The National Festival of Making’s Art In Manufacturing series has commissioned artists to engage manufacturers and their workforces in the creative process and
draw on industrial processes and heritage to inform brand new work across visual arts and performance.
This film demonstrates the link between the festival, it’s place amongst innovative manufacturing businesses and connecting creative storytellers with UK industry.
Lauren Zawadzki, Director of The National Festival Of Making, says: “Covid-19 and the UK’s lockdown meant there couldn’t be a physical festival last year and artists couldn’t be embedded with manufacturers to create new work as they would normally be.
"Attention turned to virtual experiences and we wanted to continue to not only promote the inspirational work of innovative manufacturers, but maintain links between the creative and other industries.
"By bringing Precious Plastic and Sodium Films together for this short film, there’s continuity, but also a palpable sense of the new as the remarkable story is told with such creative care.”
Celebrating making and manufacturing, from the kitchen table to the factory floor, the award- winning festival has welcomed tens of thousands of people every year, encouraging visitors of all ages and backgrounds to explore their own creative making potential.
Directed by Lauren Zawadzki and Elena Jackson at acclaimed culture company, Deco Publique, and co-founded by leading British designer, Wayne Hemingway MBE, The Festival of
Making continues to develop its impact and scale through its registered Community Interest Company that works year-round to strategically support a stronger, more diverse and sustainable cultural sector in Lancashire.
Through bold commissioning, and with funding from organisations such as Arts Council England, Blackburn with Darwen Council and Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, the CIC aims to present outstanding outcomes and experiences as part of both the festival weekend and a longer-term cultural programme for national visitors and regional communities - supporting economic development and creating a distinctive sense of place.