Material researcher specialising in Plastics.
A Little About Me
Hello! I am a recent graduate from Leeds Arts University, I studied Printed Textiles and Surface Design specializing in surface innovation. My main area of research is in the reuse of acrylic plastic waste (PMMA). It all started in my 1st year at University when I noticed off-cuts lying around in the laser cutting rooms and the workshops. I thought there must surely still be value in these unwanted off-cuts, but if they weren't used, they were thrown into a skip at the end of each week - to go where? Landfill!
I wanted to make the most out of what other people considered 'waste' and re-create something new with them. I currently specialize in melting off-cuts from various sources using a thorough, self-developed process.
Do you work with acrylic plastic and pay a lot to get it recycled? Do you have off-cuts from laser cutting lying around? This is where I come in handy...
For me, research co-insides with the process of making. The more I make and test the material the more I understand how the material works with machinery and how it can be formed. A complimentary area of my research is where to source the off-cut waste and how to deal with the toxins released during the melting process. I am in contact with acrylic manufacturing companies who have skips containing vast amounts of waste. I also contact designers, makers, shops etc that may have acrylic off-cuts or old / faulty display units.
With the equipment I have access to at the moment, I have trialed and tested different methods of dealing with the plastic and found the most successful way is to melt it very slowly with hard compression at a hot enough melting temperature to bind and make a new sheet, but not too hot to give off toxic fumes. This has taken a mixture of research and test, test, testing!
What is Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)?
Acrylic is a transparent thermoplastic more commonly known by the trade name “plexiglass.” The material is similar to polycarbonate in that it is suitable for use as an impact resistant alternative to glass. It was first produced in 1928 and was brought to market five years later by Rohm and Haas Company. It is generally considered one of the clearest plastics on the market.
Acrylic is generally used for a variety of applications that typically take advantage of its natural transparency. Common uses include: lenses, acrylic nails, paint, security barriers, medical devices, LCD screens, and furniture. Because of its clarity, it is also often used for windows, tanks, and enclosures around exhibits.
The material's hard structure makes it complex to breakdown and recycle, and it's very expensive. In Leeds, where i am based, the acrylic manufacturers either ship their waste plastic abroad to be recycled or pay an equal amount of money to recycle here in the UK. Acrylic isn't one of the higher risk waste plastics on the planet as it's more expensive to buy than other plastics, and has longer term usage. Having said this, a lot of it is still being wasted and it's a very precious material - as is all plastic!
My research aim here is to spread my knowledge and keep learning how we can create a circular economy within the design world.
What I do...
I melt! After collecting pieces of waste plastic, I break them up by shredding and using other machinery like the band saw. Having tested numerous ways to melt the shredded material, given the equipment I have access to, the best method has been the hot plate technique. Heating slowly at a high pressure reduces risk of toxic fumes being released.
In the future, I plan to collaborate with an engineer to create new machinery capable of working well with this material and possibly other softer/single use plastics too. It's these single use plastics that are more of a threat to our environment and is already a target of larger scale waste reduction worldwide.