People throw away between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags every year, according to a 2008 article in the journal Waste Management. So the Cairo-based design firm Reform Studio devised a way to transform the plastic bags into a fabric, with the aim of extending the life of all that old plastic.
This fabric, which is one of the winners of the inaugural Ro Plastic Prize announced at Milan Design Week, is made by weaving plastic bags on a traditional Egyptian handloom. The finished product, called Plastex, is durable and washable, and it can keep out sand and dust. So far, the small company has saved 10,336 bags from the landfill.
It’s striking to look at, too: The designers have created a series of four different patterns–plain, striped, zebra, and plaid–that are all based on available quantities of recycled plastic bags. They’ve used the material to create furniture collections, including upholstering the chairs that can be found in many Egyptian coffee shops as well as other more contemporary chair designs with colorful Plastex. The studio also launched a more general collection called “Re” that uses Plastex as its central material and includes high and low stools, benches, storage bags, and placemats. All are for sale at local stores in Cairo.
“We wanted to change the perception of what a plastic bag is; not to be viewed as trash but rather as a resource, a plastic material that can be used to produce beautiful products,” the designers write on their website. “Re’s vibrant design is the product of this philosophy, it’s designed to aesthetically fit in our daily life and innovatively preserve our resources, be it natural or manmade resources.”
While the Plastex-based products are only available for purchase in Cairo, Reform Studio’s work can also be found in Ikea’s new African collection, where the designers are helping Ikea incorporate recycled materials into products, like used chip packaging to create silver details on bags.