“Don’t just use less, use the useless”: Designer gives new life to used plastic straws
|Notjustuseless is an Hungarian project that was influenced by the straw-littered streets of Bairro Alto, in Portugal, that collects used straws from consumers at dedicated locations and institutions and lets designers create new objects, installations and textures.
We talked to Katalin Huszár, creator of Notjustuseless, to find out more about this project.
UniPlanet (UP): How did the idea for the Notjustuseless project come about?
During my Master’s in textile design I got a task to ‘develop innovative materials’ and so started experimenting with many different materials, with my focus always being the variety of properties, textures and looks. Drinking straws were some of the things I used, and I especially liked the ability to change their original form and give them a different context. But only a year later, while visiting Portugal with some new friends made during a course on sustainability, I got the inspiration that brought me to start this project. During a night out in Bairro Alto I saw how littered with plastic cups and straws the streets were. I was kind of shocked by this sight of Lisbon. I still find it funny that I was searching for the frame of my experiments for almost a year, and only when I wasn’t looking for an answer at all I got the inspiration to create the concept of ‘notjustuseless’.
UP: How does it work?
The core of the project is to make recycling and design interactive by involving us consumers in both. The common individual has the largest impact on how the project progresses and forms the final design by simply not throwing away their used drinking straw but putting it in a collector box. These boxes are located in common cafes or restaurants, where a lot of drinking straws are discarded. A QR code on the collection boxes leads to the page of the project, allowing you to follow the whole process. When full the box is removed, with the straws being washed and organized by color. After being heat processed, everything is possible while using the resulting colorful strips of flat plastic to design anything from a rainbow curtain to a colorful lamp with cool light effects. The final designs are ideally installed in the original location, for the cafe regulars to experience the result of their work, knowing they have contributed. Even if just putting a straw in a box, little actions like these build awareness and a chance for a more fun and engaged way of recycling/acting for the environment.
UP: Why did you decide to combine environmental activism with design?
Well, I have been experimenting with many kinds of plastics since 2014. With time I noticed I was using more and more discarded or waste materials, due to the interesting textures and properties. At the same time, I felt I wanted to work on design with a purpose other than pure aesthetics, and the course on sustainability I went through was the perfect catalyst. Immediately everything fell into place and made sense: using these waste materials to create design objects, making them again useful while raising awareness! Therefore, my material research transformed into a more conceptual project that reaches people and encourages their intervention, instead of having me create a design and showing only the final result of the work to these people.
UP: What is the mission of your project?
Don’t just use less, use the useless!
Our mission is to invite people to be reflective and take responsibility into their own hands, when facing the waste from their usual life’s material consumption.
Mostly even if we use selective waste bins, we have no picture of the lifecycle of the materials we use, we simply hope they are recycled by some magical, responsible entity… For the normal consumer the journey of consciousness ends at the bin. ‘Notjustuseless’ wants recycling to be more real and closer to the consumer society by encouraging people to follow and interact with the process, while on top of it being inspired by the colorful results!
UP: What kind of objects can you make with used plastic straws?
Considering the interactive component, the most powerful use for them is to create designs such as interior decorative textiles – curtains, room dividers, table cloths… – or lamps in the cafe or restaurant where the straws were collected.
Other than this base use, there are other functional and technical uses for the resulting plastic strips, such as to bind fabrics, replacing sewing in seams. You can use them to form the corner of a bag, in the edge of a coat or pocket. Even making buttonless closing systems or other clothing details. A fun use for them was in a recent project, where I made some colorful bookmarks from straws. Each is branded with a bunch of hashtags that tell a bit of the story, including #bairroalto#drinkingstraw#recycled #notjustuseless. We are thinking of even using old straws picked on the beach by other institutions and brand them with #savetheocean. The possibilities are exciting!
UP: How can we take part in this project?
How can you? You can even come up with an answer yourself! The cool thing about ‘Notjustuseless’ is it is still fresh and growing. Considering it is an experimental initiative, everyone including you is welcome to propose new ideas and uses for the straws, new ways of interaction, group design events, children design projects, etc.
At the very least you can contribute by donating the straw you just used if you see a container in your local cafe. Be sure to follow the progress of the project through the printed QR code!
As an institution you can make available a space for the containers and store the straws in bags whenever these fill up. Most importantly, I encourage anyone to let their creativity fly and give some ideas or suggest any potential cooperation.
UP: Where can we find more information about Notjustuseless?
Most info is available through my/the project’s website, and you can follow the Instagram and Facebook pages for some other cool info and sneak peaks into what’s up. I also invite you to drop me an email with whatever inquiries/ideas/coop ideas you might have.