Foekje Fleur became interested in the creative potential of rubbish about four years ago as a student at AKV Sint Joost in Den Bosch. "I read an article about the plastic soup in the Pacific Ocean, a place where all floating trash collects," the Dutch designer tells Co.Design. "Rivers bring it to sea, where it will stay forever—the plastic just breaks into smaller pieces, but doesn’t disappear." Figuring her hometown would have its own unfortunate supply of debris, she took to the banks of the local Maas waterway. "There were all kinds of objects—toothbrushes, toys, etc.—but it was stunning how many bottles I found, from cleaning detergent to motor oil to shampoo. Some pieces were quite new, while others were almost 50 years old," she says.
She decided to instill the spirit of the cast-offs into a collection of cast-ceramic pieces for a school project, and its success inspired her to put the idea into production. "I went to Jingdezhen—the Chinese capital of porcelain—with a bag full of old plastic bottles and rented a table in a studio where I worked on the first series of 150 items. I had help from local craftspeople who have been working with the material for all of their lives," she says. A fortuitous meeting there with the owner of U.S. tableware brand Middle Kingdom led to a happy collaboration and collection.
When purchased, each box contains a little card explaining more about the concept. "I like to spread some consciousness about an environmental issue in an aesthetic way," Fleur says. Ultimately, the transformation prompts an interesting shift in perception. "Once the bottles are made in porcelain, people suddenly value this item that basically looks the same as the plastic one," she says. "Because of this new material we can think of it as something that lasts for a long time; in fact, the porcelain will last for thousands of years and hopefully becomes a souvenir in a time when the pollution is long gone."
Her next endeavor takes on helium balloons dicarded near her new home in the Hague. "I’m not sure what to do with them yet," she says. "But the series is quite interesting because these were each sent by someone who had a wish—a wish which was probably not to pollute the sea."