UNclean Plastics

UNclean Plastics

Toothbrushes from recycled polypropylene

25 June 2021

Since the beginning of 2020, global social life has been shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic. The fight against this exceptional medical situation demands its prices. In an acute health emergency, the highest possible prevention and safety must be guaranteed. In connection with this, there seems to be no alternative to the single-use use of hygiene articles such as face masks made of polypropylene. The worldwide production and consumption of facemasks alone leads to an additional waste of more than 584 million tons per year. There is a lacking awareness among a large part of the population that disposable facemasks are almost pure plastic waste after use. The recent efforts to minimize the use of disposable products have been strongly abandoned during the last year. With hardly any recycling efforts huge amounts of plastic waste will end up in landfills and the oceans. The degrading of polypropylene used in mask production takes around 400 years. The remaining microplastic harms sea life and other organisms.

3D printing material from contaminated waste

The “UNclean Plastics” project by the two designers Friedrich Gerlach and Felix Stockhausen addresses this highly socially relevant topic and encourages a critical, creative debate about the current use of resources. Specifically, the project focuses on the consumption and cycle chains of Covid 19 protective products such as FFP2 masks. The aim is to not only create new approaches using additive production methods to reduce/recycle the resulting waste quantities but also to work on the psychological characteristics of those products through design intervention.

The two designers at the Bauhaus University in Weimar are dedicating themselves to this goal by closely examining various extrusion processes. The production of consistent 3D printable filament represented a big challenge. Different filaments with varying ratios of recycled polypropylene from used or production waste facemasks and pure polypropylene were tested and used for 3D printing. The heating process ensures the elimination of any possible Covid-19 virus or other viruses and leaves an uncontaminated material.

The monomaterial toothbrush was developed within the project as a symbolic product and is printed using the recycled Polypropylene filament. It is 3D printed in one piece, including the bristles, on a common FDM printer. Using 3D printing enabled us to combine both: Solid shapes and flexible fiberlike characteristics. Successfully working with 3D printing, a quite complicated and difficult production method, showcases that recycling is possible and should be implemented. Producing an everyday product such as a toothbrush from recycled facemasks aims to create a strong contrast from contaminated waste to hygiene product. The confrontation sparks a debate on cleanness and disgust, as well as raising awareness about the use and value of resources.


image source: Friedrich Gerlach, Felix Stockhausen