Plastic Bag Alchemy – “Object” or “Thing”?

Rotterdam-based research and design studio, ‘The New Raw’ has introduced a new public initiative ‘Print your City!’ looking to turn plastic waste into functional furniture. This alchemy of trash to treasure has produced the xxx bench (first outcome of the project). This is what it looks like!

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You can take a look at more of them here!

The bench is made from plastic pellets from processed municipal waste or flakes from ground up recycled products and then printed with a large scale 3-D printer.

Check out how it is made here!


Plastic follows a linear life cycle from production, to use, to disposal (most plastics end up in landfills where their short life cycles are essentially over). This project changes this trajectory by closing the loop, giving these plastics new use and function. The bench – taking the form of a double-sided rocking chair requiring users to find equilibrium or work together to rock each other – also makes a statement about cooperating to close the plastic loop.

I found that Ingold’s (2011) mental framework, of distinguishing between “object” and “thing”, a useful way to engage with the xxx bench. While an “object” is complete and unitary, a “thing” is a dynamic and organic gathering of materials (Ingold, 2011, Heidegger, 1971).

We tend to think of plastics as “objects” in complete, final and already-made forms, like plastic bottles, bags and disposable packaging, prioritising processes of consumption in this mental framework (Ingold, 2011). Further changes that these plastics undergo occur as part of phases of human consumption. As such, from an object-centred perspective, the making of the xxx bench is labelled as “recycling”.

However, if we perceive these plastics as “materials” and the dynamic gathering of plastics to form the xxx bench, as a “thing”, we are able to isolate the innate potential that plastic, as a material, possesses for further making and transformation. In a world of materials, things are always on the way to becoming something else and materials are substances-in-becoming (Ingold, 2011; Barad, 2003). Hence the xxx bench is not the product of recycling of plastic bags but a part of the life of the plastic in itself. When people engage with the xxx bench as a thing, they join its process of ongoing formation, rendering it its power to make a statement as thing (Ingold, 2011).

Perhaps the new way forward for “recycling” is to direct our attention to the perdure of materials rather than a fixation on their inertial forms as objects of our daily consumption. To this end, where do you see the future of disposed tin cans and electronic hardware?


I found this reading particularly useful: 

Ingold, T. (2011) ‘Towards an Ecology of Materials’, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 41, 427 – 442.

Ingold (2011) drew on this quite a bit:

Heidegger, M. (1971) Poetry, Language, Thought, New York: Harper and Row.

And more 🙂

Barad, K. (2003) ‘Posthumanist performativity: towards an understanding of how matter comes to matter’, Signs, Vol. 28, 801 – 831.

(411 words)


2 thoughts on “Plastic Bag Alchemy – “Object” or “Thing”?”

  1. I find your introduction of distinguishing between ‘object’ and ‘thing’ really interesting and thought-provoking. Personally, I have always viewed them as objects… but this new lens of viewing them as ‘things’ really does open up fresh ideas of our interaction with the materials around us!

    I guess if I were to view tin cans as objects, I would see them being recycled into objects like cups (e.g. In Singapore, drink stall operators recycle the tin cans to serve as cups for hot beverages) and even flower pots in our everyday use. But if I were to view them as things, I could consider their ‘transformation’ into reflective signs, ornaments, and even toys! That’s really interesting!

    Thank you for sharing!


  2. Thank you for sharing your post Beatriz,

    Your post exemplifies that the economies of repair and maintenance also happen in the Global North, and that the Amsterdam’s (as XXX stands for) chairs repesent a novel way of reimagining objects as things. It also shows that the metabolic flows and exchanges interact between cities within the same country, and that they help reinforce each other’s sustainable agendas.

    Very interesting post indeed!


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