We recently assigned this year’s ECO Coin Award to Dutch designer Dave Hakkens, founder of the Precious Plastic movement. With his open-source recycling machines, he gives people around the world the knowledge to locally start recycling plastic. We visited Hakkens’ studio, where we spoke about recycling, mobile phones, traveling and sustainability.
Dave Hakkens graduated cum laude at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2013. His graduation project Phonebloks gained international media attention, which resulted in Google’s interest to develop the mobile. In the same year he won the Social Design Talent Award and a commission to implement and further develop his Precious Plastic project. Initially trained as an industrial designer, Hakkens spends his time building machinery, making videos and creating his own community.
The idea for Precious Plastic was simple: getting people to recycle plastic
When was the first time you became aware of recycling?
Since I was younger I’ve always been amazed by metal; seeing homeless people collecting cans from the streets, bringing them to a designated point and exchange them for money. I became aware of how something we consider trash can generate value. Gradually I understood the metal working process and started seeing it as a material. Today I still work along these lines. It is up to us to make something out of it, and plastic seemed like an interesting medium when I started the Precious Plastic project.
Can you update us on the status of Precious Plastic?
The idea for Precious Plastic was simple, getting people to recycle plastic and so I developed these machines. After the project ended, a few people started building them themselves, but only on a small scale. Therefore I decided to create a second version, which was launched six months ago. I already received constructive feedback on the project. People started building their recycling machines from Mexico to Hungary, from Indonesia to South Africa and Australia. However, as there is not a recycling machine in every village in the world yet, we are already thinking about building a third version.
At the moment there are people who have the resources for a machine, but don’t know how to make one. At the same time, there are people who want to build a machine, but don’t know anyone who would want one. Sometimes it’s a matter of bringing these two people together, which locally can create a building scenario. This is an interesting point to consider in the development of the third version, to smoothen the building process by offering a map where you can see where the builders and the plastic are located.
Was this the starting point for your community?
This initially started as the Phonebloks community, where others were invited to contribute to the project. Building a community is very valuable to me. At some point I created a community for Precious Plastic and decided to bring it all together. Even though it is still a work in progress, I learn and gain much from it. The idea was to build an ongoing forum for people to meet, but also be able to develop their own projects.
Upon our arrival, you mentioned you had just returned from a long travel, how does traveling influence your work?
When traveling I think its more interesting to visit the slumps in India rather than seeing a temple. By visiting the slumps I get an actual insight to how they deal with plastic, which inspires me a lot. As my work often deals with global problems – from e-waste to plastic – I feel it is important to understand how the world works and to ask myself what does it mean on a global scale. I am not saying I comprehend the world completely, but traveling helps me understand it better. Next to that, I travel to meet the people who built my machines and invited me over. For example, in Indonesia I experienced how the machines work in their environment, while simultaneously being able to help them solve the problems they were facing in process.
What kind of problems?
To my surprise they had difficulties in finding an engine. You would think a motor is such a basic part of equipment, but people in Indonesia had trouble getting one. Another problem was that some of people that were able to build the machine didn’t know what to do with the material – a bit similar to what is happening in the 3D printing world now. I could never foresee problems like these, it is interesting for me to think about how to improve these aspects.
How do you think technology can contribute to further recycling?
A big part of the project currently resides in developing countries, as there is a lot of plastic waste. The project feels more urgent in a place like that, as people are in direct contact with it. Whereas here, we hide our waste in trashcans, it’s not really visible. To that extent, I think it would be great to see places like these becoming more technologically advanced, having robots grinding and disposing of materials. I imagine this as a friendly place, very often waste processing stinks and it’s dirty by nature. It would be great to see a clean place where materials are carefully sorted. Perhaps this would be integrated in version number 12.
You once said you are “trying to make the world better by making things” does this still count?