Reuse of plastic bottles. Pet lamps by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón

Published on May 28, 2013

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“In the Summer of 2011, on a visit to Colombia, I was invited to form part of an attractive project focussed on the reuse of plastic bottles PET. Hélène Le Drogou, psychologist and activist concerned with the plastic waste that contaminates the Colombian Amazon, invited me to give my point of view as an industrial designer on this problem.

As part of a group of creatives involved in this project, I could see that the pollution generated by the plastic bottles that we use every day is a problem that affects us on a global level. It was because of this that I decided to develop a project that would provide answers, from a design viewpoint, to this global issue.

The way we addressed this problem was to combine it with an ancient artisan resource: the textile tradition. Thus, my idea was to convert an object with a short and specific lifespan into a product enriched by the cosmogony of the local culture.

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Colombia, thanks to its enormous cultural wealth, has been the perfect place to develop the first phase of this project. Thanks to the advice of Artesanías de Colombia and to the patronage of Coca Cola, in August 2012 we returned to Bogotá, where we created a workshop of artesans from Cauca who had been displaced by guerilla war.

Seen from a distance, for its logical complexity, it seemed like an impossible task. However, a big part of the magic of this project has been to see how a puzzle of seemingly infinite pieces was put together until finally it was presented in the marketplace for the first time at the Milan Furniture Fair, 2013.

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THE PROBLEM:

A growing quantity of plastic waste is invading every corner of the plannet. In many places there aren´t adequate resources for the collection and recycling of this waste and in tropical zones this problem is accentuated in a very particular way. The tropical rains wash the PET plastic bottles into the rivers which in turn wash them out to sea. Once there, the bottles float on the ocean currents.

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This continuous accumulation of  plastic waste has produced an immense island in the Pacific ocean, already bigger in size than Spain, which today is known as the Seventh Continent¨. Due to the size of this problem no country has taken responsibility for it and it is only recently that a French expedition  has pledged to make a serious investigation into this phenomenon

(more details can be found at www.septimecontinent.com).

THE DESIGN:

PET bottles have a very short useful lifespan which seems scandalous when you consider the effort required to produce them. Nevertheless, they are a widely used product justified by their unquestionable effectiveness, price and practicality. We believe in reuse as the counterpoint to recycling.
PET bottles can have a second life. There are other ways to accomplish this, but we looked to fuse one of the most produced industrial objects with one of the traditional crafts most rooted to the earth.

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The bottles changed from being containers for liquids into being ceiling lamps. We took advantage of the bottle top to join the electrical components to the lamp shade, the neck as the structure and the body of the bottle as a surface on which to weave. The principle of weaving is reinterpreted and the surface of the bottle is converted into the warp through which the artisan weaves the weft.

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In the same way that the tracking number printed on the bottles neck tells us of its production, where it was bottled and its destined market, the weaving created by the artisan tells us of their tradition by way of its fibres, colours and motifs.

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THE INSPIRATION:

The starting point regarding how to manipulate the bottles came from analysis of the bamboo stirrer from the Japanese bamboo tea ceremony since both objects had many elements in common: they are both made from a single material and made in one piece. . Weaving on this warp, the piece acquires and maintains its desired form.

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THE SOCIAL ASPECT:

Through the Asociación Artisanías de Colombia, an organism dedicated to the diffusion and preservation of the traditional crafts of Colombia, we had the opportunity to colaborate with groups of artisans from the Cauca region who had been displaced by guerrilla war to Bogota.

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From this the workshop which we developed together with artisans from two distinct ethnic groups throughout the month of August 2012 was born.
The Eperara-Siapidara are found in the littoral region of Cauca, a hot zone where the Paja Tetera palm tree is abundantly found. This is the source of the fibres for their traditional crafts which they die with locally found natural pigments.

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The Guambianos, despite their geographical proximity to the Eperara-Siapidara, are  an ethnic group from a cold zone situated in the Central mountain range of the Andes and with a tradition which they have preserved from before the Incas. In their wool and cotton weaving they reflect the character of their country and simbolism of their culture.
In this first phase of the project we have tried to give these artisans, who are found living in Bogota in very poor conditions, uprooted from their land and their culture, a livelihood thanks to their traditional knowledge.”

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You can also see Pet Lamps in the exhibition “Fuera de Serie. Things that design can change”.

Alvaro Catalán de Ocón

Words and photo: Courtesy of Alvaro Catalán de Ocón

 

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