• 07.24.12

An Artisanal Way Of Recycling Plastic, Inspired By Cotton Candy

The team of recent RCA grads have built a machine that turns polypropylene into something resembling cotton candy.

Recycling plastic is a tricky, expensive business. Different types of plastic have varying melting points and therefore can’t be mixed together. And the recycled material requires a great deal of pressure to be molded into other products. But a quartet of RCA grads have turned a complicated manufacturing process into something of a homespun, small-scale operation. Resembling a cotton-candy machine, their Polyfloss Factory transforms polypropylene into fibers that can then be used to make an array of household objects.


The machine works much like an ordinary cotton-candy maker: A heater melts plastic chips while the drum spins and extrudes the substance through tiny holes by centrifugal force. Using their customized machine, the team–made up of Emile De Visscher, Chritophe Machet, Audrey Gaulard, and Nick Paget–has recycled plastic cups, baskets, children’s toys, and even the casing of a vacuum, which yielded “nearly a cubic meter of bright red Polyfloss.” Once in its fluffy state, the designers tell Co.Design, “We can easily remelt the plastic with inexpensive molds to produce objects that can be both hard and shiny and smooth and textured. Because we can create ‘structurally diverse’ objects, we can have very different outputs.” They’ve been able to create everything from simple forms such as flowerpots and lampshades to textiles and consumer products like headphones.

They’ve also taken the factory on the road, offering the service to businesses and communities that want to use their waste to create playful designs. They were recently commissioned by an international company to produce a large lobby installation made from more than 1,000 discarded keyboards, which will be unveiled during London Design Week in September. They also have plans to sell machines directly to other makers, putting the power of recycling plastics into the hands of individual consumers.

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.