From chocolate molds to eyeglasses, to car headlamps, Polycarbonate is omnipresent in our daily lives. It represents a range of thermoplastic polymers that are tough and impact-resistant, which along with their transparency and lightweight nature allows them to replace glass in multiple applications.
This robust, light-transmitting material has a few disadvantages as well, such as low scratch resistance and the challenges of its disposal. In both incinerators or landfills, Polycarbonate releases a hazardous compound called bisphenol A (BPA), among other pollutants, and does not degrade for a very long time (like other plastics). While bioremediation is being explored as one path to digesting and degrading discarded polycarbonate (such as CD’s), the onus today lies on designers to recycle it after its end of life, and produce functional, aesthetic and safe products from it again.
The work of self-producing design studio Dirk Vander Kooij is a relevant and innovative example. Based in Zaandam, near Amsterdam (NL), the studio sources and sorts waste plastics, using the recycled material and a giant robotic arm to extrude large designed objects such as furniture and lighting. The process employed is low-resolution 3D printing, and the raw material is 100% recycled plastic–among them polycarbonates.
The studio prefers creating products with single materials, to make recycling them at their end of life more feasible. Several objects in their collection are crafted entirely from recycled transparent and translucent polycarbonates. Of these, lighting products like the Fresnel Light and Buitenhuis Chandelier stand out, for their ribbon-like 3D printed recycled polycarbonate, and the unique refraction and diffusion of light the resulting material and form offer. The shell of these light fixtures is made from waste polycarbonate material sourced from rooftop windows, chocolate molds, and CDs. This blend of polycarbonates is then 3D printed into the shell form and layered with hundreds of small LEDs within it.