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Kunststoffschmiede. Open Workshop & Development Laboratory for Plastic Recycling
Organisation : Konglomerat e.V. Dresden , Germany

Our goal is to overcome the status quo of linear design, non-recycling waste management and negative public stance towards plastics in favour of a truly sustainable circular economy. The open workshop functions as the basis for our transformative action: It puts the practical action of the individual at the center of things, empowering each participant to be part of the solution to the plastic problem.

Kunststoffschmiede is an integral part of both #Rosenwerk and Precious Plastic. #Rosenwerk is a 600m² self-organised open workshop, fablab and makerspace in Dresden. Precious Plastic is a global network for manual DIY plastic recycling.

Agendas addressed
DecarbonisationWater resources and air qualityClimate change
Public spaceLocal economies and employment
Pathways followed
  • Ensure equal access to municipal services
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
  • Nurture a sharing economy
  • Capitalise on local economy and production
  • Create and close local value chains
  • Apply innovative financing approaches
  • Pursue a shift towards a circular economy
  • Wisely select and apply smart technologies
  • Support open data standards
Context
Konglomerat e.V. Dresden

Plastics gained global disreputation for their negative impacts on the environment. Whilst the existence of ever-growing great garbage patches in the oceans is commonly known today, we are having a hard time effectively reacting to it. In Europe, the share of plastics that end up in landfills is fortunately decreasing, yet remaining at 27%, being slowly replaced by a growing share (41%) of so-called “energy-recovery”, which in fact means that the precious materials are being burnt, wasting vast amounts of process energy that is embodied in the products but has no calorific value. Inefficiently burning mostly-fossil plastics further accelerates climate change, ultimately threatening our existence. Recycling amounts to no more than 31%.

We can live neither with nor without plastics, leaving us helpless and unable to move, whilst plastic production keeps growing globally. We cannot go on like this, but the established boundaries between sectors and responsibilities impede innovative solutions.

In Action
Konglomerat e.V. Dresden

The problem is not a lack of knowledge but rather the impotence that comes from the complexity of the system and our dependence on materials and industries that we do not understand. At Kunststoffschmiede, we put the empowered individual and their meaningful actions at the center of things, allowing participants to overcome the resulting lethargy.


Taking part, people experience the full circle of plastic recycling first hand, starting by collecting, cleaning, sorting and shredding their own waste to obtain precious raw materials for plastic production. We help them to reflect on the world of products that surrounds them in order to design useful objects, overcoming the role of being a consumer at the mercy of the market. Bringing the recycled materials into production, designs are then transferred into moulds and machines that are built and used by the participants themselves.

The entire process is based on 8 principles:
1. Transparency: We make recycling understandable and demystify the industrial high-tech process.
2. Accessibility: Everybody can engage. We have developed a wide range of sessions, enabling people with different amounts of time and experience, with or without handicaps to participate.
3. Perceptibility: Our machines and tools are operated manually, using levers, car jacks, crank handles and the like. The transformative action physically touches the participants and is remembered well, thereby facilitating new stances.
4. Reflection: From this angle of being able to make a difference, we assist the participants to deeply reflect on their consumption habits and personal leeway, identifying ways of having additional impact together.
5. Empowerment: DIY / DIT (Do-It-Together) as general approaches holds great potential for the shift to sustainability. It leads people towards not considering conditions to be unchangeable. It encourages them to do things they have never done before and it tends to be fun. Applying the approach to the plastics problem empowers participants to use it elsewhere.
6. Integration: All activities are embedded as much as possible into existing, well frequented contexts: educational institutions, socio-cultural venues and activities, networks, municipal policies, the local currency and others.
7. Dissolution of boundaries: Industry and authorities have so far failed to come up with significant, generally accepted solutions to the plastic problem. Kunststoffschmiede talks to a wide range of public and private actors, spreading innovative impetuses to start the necessary new cross-sector collaborations.
8. Open Source: By applying this mode of operation, we ensure global imitability, for example with this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24ECE3VL13k

 

Results
Konglomerat e.V. Dresden

STRUCTURAL RESULTS
Since we started working on Kunststoffschmiede in late 2017, we have

  • set up a ~70m² inner-city open workspace for recycling, plastic production as well as the manufacturing of moulds and machines. It is open 1-4 times a week for everybody in the neighbourhood.
  • built 4 machines (2 Shredders, 1 Injection moulding machine, 1 Compression machine) that are accessible to everyone. All of the machines are suitable for mobile use, we have toured all over Germany with them, following some of the 67 invitations we got by different organisations.
  • started establishing a network with now 17 different local actors of waste management, plastic production and environmental authorities that will start to meet regularly to find new ways of tackling the plastic problem

RECYCLING RESULTS
Since Kunststoffschmiede officially opened in May 2018, we enabled

  • ~4500 products to be made from recycled plastic
  • 472 active participants to engage and use the machines to recycle their waste
  • 37 products to be designed / moulds to be manufactured by participants
  • 284 concrete ideas for products / moulds to be collected

MILESTONES AHEAD (Excerpt)

  • Become more mobile by building smaller stand-alone machines that can be moved around by bicycle trailer more easily. Step 1 of this milestone is to build a pedal-powered Shredder.
  • Tour lots of schools starting in summer term 2019.
  • Mainstream Precious Plastic: Like on a junk yard, we are going to pay money per kg of material that is brought to us, but instead of euros, we pay Dresden’s local currency Elbtaler. This raises public stance towards plastics as valuable materials (like everybody knows steel is, therefore we bring it to the junk yard) attractivity of using our recycling system outreach of the local currency.
Impact

We bring the full (circular) value chain of plastics back to the inner-city. At a micro-scale, yet as a model project that in combination with the well-equipped makerspace #Rosenwerk opens up large spaces of possibilities. One of many examples is the so-called “Nubsi”, a connection element a local manufacturer needs for a wooden system furniture design. He tried many different ways of making it from new materials, yet at the scale of his operation (1000 pieces for the first edition of the product) none of them were suitable. Making the parts at Kunststoffschmiede was the best option and opened his eyes for recycling. We were able to provide the space and surroundings for developing a circular design and the necessary contacts to waste managers and plastic producers for the next steps in his local business.


Kunststoffschmiede is a hub for sharing ideas, tools, knowledge and skills. We consider ourselves to be facilitators, enablers, translators, disruptors and instigators, spreading impetuses and establishing networks. We bring production back into the cities, in innovative and sustainable ways. The factory we build is a productive and a socio-cultural hotspot, it is an integral part of the neighbourhood where people meet and create. We think that the circular economy is a question of culture which can only change through active participation. Therefore, the open workshop will always remain central to our approach and impact.

Our long-term goal is to have 0,5kgs of plastic waste from every inhabitant in Dresden be recylced locally every year, saving more than 1200 tonnes of CO₂ and opening vast opportunities for a new “culture of sustainability”.

For quantitative measurements, we register every participant and product as well as the amounts of processed materials and nodes in established stakeholder-networks.

To ensure the project’s impact, a ‘Rebound-Commission’ provides external evaluation.

Challenges and lessons learned
Konglomerat e.V. Dresden

The biggest challenge has been finding the necessary space for our workshop in inner-city Dresden. Affordable rental spaces for production are rare, as it is in most growing and successful cities in Europe. Instead of stealing more greenfield land, our approach is to build on existing flexible and modular building concepts. We use 20ft shipping containers, resulting in the additional challenge to design and construct their interior in a sustainable manner.

Other challenges have been taking enough time for setting up, finding good people for jobs that come with the project and securing long term funding.

 

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Contact

ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability
European Secretariat

Leopoldring 3
79098 Freiburg
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 0
Fax: +49 (0) 761 – 368 92 19

E-mail: info@sustainablecities.eu
Website: www.sustainablecities.eu

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