I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lucas Chen from Plastico, whose recycled plastic vessels are entrants for the Golden Pin Concept award this year.

Plastico has already garnered a strong online community with its concept, and  it has collaborated with H&M for the Taiwan launch of their Conscious Exclusive collection made of recycled shoreline plastic. Plastico also provided recycled plastic coasters for a media event with in collaboration with copperplate script artist Jibu Le Designs.

I met with Chen at the at Escent Bookcase, a quaint bookstore-slash-cafe in the middle of Daan where their designs were being exhibited in collaboration with Bago, maker of wallets constructed  from recycled bags. We discussed Plastico’s inspirations for their design concept and its aspirations for the future.

Copperscript artist Ji Bu Le enscribing Plastico’s recycled plastic coasters for H&M Conscious Exclusive press event. Photo courtesy of Plastico.

Please tell us about yourself!

I’m Lucas Chen (陳亮至 Chen Liang-chi), one of the founders at Plastico, a recycled plastic concept. This project originally started with me and my two classmates Ryan (楊其寰 Yang Chi-huan), who was supposed to be here today but he had to do a last-minute physical since he is studying abroad at Pratt next year, and Lai (賴樂齊 Lai Le-chi), who is at Delft University in Holland – he’ll be back in July.

Plastico began as a project in my fourth year of design school, from September 2015, to June of 2016. We had a take a break in the middle, but as long as two of us are able we agreed to keep the project going. We started up again in February this year after I left my previous job. Actually, many people have been messaging us about Plastico in the interim, so I finally followed up with everyone and that’s how we landed a collaboration with H&M for their media event.

What is your concept behind the design? Why plastic?

Our concept is “continuing life” (延續生命), whether it’s tableware, furniture, or stationary. In the beginning we were working with paper. It was for our graduation final project, which was required to be completed by a team of 2 to 4 people, which is a tradition at our school.

On our teacher’s advice we went to the Tainan Municipal Recycling plant to find out more about recycling. We found out that paper recycling is actually very polluting to the environment, because you have to break down the paper and there are a lot of toxic chemicals involved.

We had known for a long time about a Dutch designer Dave Hakkens who is making machine pressed recycled plasticware, which inspired us to look at plastics.

We felt that there wasn’t anyone working on plastic bags in Taiwan, so we wanted to solve the problem from there. We feel that the plastic bag culture in Taiwan is unique. The sizes and shapes are different from other places in the world — for example, in Holland the bags are more transparent, but in Taiwan the bags can be brightly colored and quite thick sometimes. The imagery is also unique to our region.

Many people save their plastic bags but they don’t know what to do with them and end up throwing them away anyway. Furthermore, most recycling plants don’t accept plastic bags either, because they are easily contaminated. It’s different from plastic bottles which are easy to wash and refabricate.  Even if a recycling center collects plastic bags the efficacy of recycling is quite low. Many places don’t recycle them at all and they are treated as regular trash. This is what we’ve found through our research.

While we hope that eventually we can move to a plastic-bag free economy — and even if we do do it immediately — there is still all this pre-existing material that must be used up. So we came up with this solution.

How are you sourcing the plastic? How do you prevent contamination?

We post on the internet, on our Facebook page, asking for bags. People send them to us from all over. We have also gone out and collected bags too. We just put out a call and go around with a giant box and pick them up. It’s pretty fun!

For example, once we got a call from a private dessert kitchen. They messaged us and said they had a case of plastic bags and they also gave us a small cake when we went to pick it up. We’ve also picked up from the Jane Goodall Society at National Taiwan University, and different environmental groups, but most participants mail the bags to us.

Since our storage space in Taipei isn’t that large, we can’t store that many bags at once, so we will send out messages to let the community know when we don’t need them anymore, or when we’ll need them again.

We don’t have to worry about contamination since they are donated by our community, so the bags are clean.

What is your manufacturing process like? Is it all Made In Taiwan or do you outsource?

We use heat and pressure. First we sort the bags, then stack them, and then we use a machine. Everything is made by hand for now. We did create a simple machine for the process, but the details are a trade secret!

What inspired you to enter the Golden Pin Concept Awards? What has your experience been?

I was inspired to enter Golden Pin after seeing this light entry called Heng (衡) from China. Last year we entered the Young Design 2016 Next 設計獎, where we won gold prize for Plastico. There I saw this  light with two wooden spheres. Then I saw the same design at Golden Pin and I thought, if they can do it I can do it too! So this year we submitted our project.

Since entering we’ve been selected for this interview and had our works featured on Taiwanese design magazine La Vie.

What are your hopes for the future of Plastico? What are your next steps?

We hope to establish Plastico as a company and scale up production before making it available to the public. Since there is so much interest we want to be able to meet demand — if we can’t make enough units it will adversely affect our customer’s perception of us. It is very important to us to preserve the integrity of the brand.

Currently everything is made by hand but that is too labor-intensive if we want to scale. Right now we are researching machines and we will build one. That’s our next step.

Thank you so much Plastico!

We are very excited to be interviewed as well! Thanks so much for having us.

You can follow Plastico on their Facebook Page here: https://www.facebook.com/plasticotw

More information about Golden Pin awards here: http://www.goldenpin.org.tw/en/pgpnyg2.asp.
Golden Pin is accepting entries through the end of June. Interested applicants may apply here: http://member.goldenpin.org.tw/GPCDA/index.

(Feature photo of the Plastico team at Plastico exhibition. From left: Lucas, Lai, and Ryan)




Darice Chang

Darice is an artist, writer, model and translator residing in Taipei. She volunteered with a metaller turned legislator and facilitated for stories appearing in the BBC, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, L’Orange, and Metal Hammer. She was previously Community Manager at FutureWard Central, Taipei's largest co-working and makerspace. In her spare time she enjoys amazing vegan food, photoshoots, and music festivals.