Look around The Pool offices, and we’ve all got our jazzy coffee cups and reusable water bottles on our desks (mine’s a leopard print S’well). At home, I’ve got as far as at least remembering to take a Bag For Life with me when I go to Tesco. It’s all a step in the right direction, but there’s no getting away from the fact that tackling the plastic problem will be a decades, if not a centuries-long struggle.
Experts think that, if we carry on as we are, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Anyone who caught the BBC’s Drowning In Plastic documentary, last week, will see that we still have a long way to go. Chicks with stomachs full of plastic is not an easy watch.
The good news is that the interiors world is striving to make changes. Big high-street names, alongside smaller independents, are not only reducing the amount of single-use plastic in shops and packaging, but also offering “upcycled” pieces made from materials that would have otherwise gone to waste.
WHAT DOES UPCYCLED MEAN?
“By finding ways to reuse all the stuff that’s already been manufactured, we reduce the demand for new products made from any raw material, including plastic,” says Antonia Edwards from Upcyclist, an online resource showcasing “consciously conceived” products. That could be soft furnishings made from 100% reused water bottles (British brand Weaver Green is a great option for this), intricate lampshades crafted from recycled cardboard (see US brand Graypants’ gorgeous Scraplights collection) or tableware fashioned from recycled glass. Consumers are increasingly seeking out these pieces over mass-produced options, which Edwards says will help fuel a “cultural shift” towards brands examining how they operate at every stage in the supply chain.
WHERE CAN I FIND UPCYCLED PIECES?
In September, Selfridges launched its Conscious Creators edit – products made by brands that have impressive sustainable credentials. I’ve got British Colour Standard's colourful glasswear high up on my Christmas list, as well as one of Pentatonic's cushions. The design studio’s pieces are made from 100% waste materials, are totally recyclable and use no toxic chemicals or glues in the mix. Crucially, the pieces also look fabulous, and prices, while not cheap, are on par with the likes of Heal’s and other high-end homeware.
IKEA, the poster child of “fast” furniture, has pledged to make all its plastic products from recyclable and/or recycled materials by 2020. The targets are ambitious and will take some time to translate to what we see on the shelves or website. For now, though, the Swedish store’s offering includes its Kungsbacka kitchen doors made from recycled PET bottles, which look surprisingly chic. I also like its pretty Ps vase made from leftover glass pieces.
At the other end of the spectrum, plastic was named Material Of The Year at this year’s London Design Festival, with design houses showcasing their innovative use of plastic to make beautiful homeware. Though there were some spenny pieces on display – I’m a bit in love with Charlotte Kidger’s sculptural tables – there were also some that won’t cost you a month’s salary. Weez and Merl’s marbled coasters made from 100% waste plastic are now firmly on my radar.
HOW CAN I KNOW IF A BRAND IS REALLY SUSTAINABLE?
“Look at the facts when assessing how much a company is doing to reduce its impact,” says Edwards. “Don’t take general claims about caring for the environment at face value. The more transparent a company is about each step of the production chain, the better – their carbon emissions; the toxicity of ingredients; recycled packaging – even if they haven't quite reached perfection."
Brands should have detailed information on their websites and certifications can be a useful indicator: look out for GOTS-certified materials. This is the Global Organic Textile Standard, which checks for sustainable practices, as well as fair working conditions across the process. For wooden pieces, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is what you’re after. Its tick logo means the product has met strict standards for both environmental and social impact. If you’re unsure, Edwards recommends contacting companies directly to get more information.
GOOD DESIGN IS THE KEY
Upcycled products don’t have the best rep when it comes to looks and longevity, but as the products in this round-up show, this is changing. Edwards says that good design is crucial to sustain change, and pieces need to be of good quality so buyers want to keep them long-term – and even upcycle them again.
"Before bringing a new product into your home, think about its life cycle - what's going to happen to it once you no longer have a need for it? Is it well made enough so that you can pass it on to someone else? Will it biodegrade or can it be recycled via a company's 'take back' program?"
“Upcycled furniture and decor is often handmade and one of a kind,” says Edwards “And I think because of this we treat them like works of art rather than purely functional and throwaway.”