From trash to treasure

There is nothing lovely about plastic bags but Liane Rossler and Sarah King (aka Sarah K) transform them into beautiful bowls at the press of a trigger.

The Sydney-based designers use a simple hardware store heat gun to turn single-use supermarket plastic bags into multi-purpose plates, cups and spoons. At first glance, their delicate, translucent Plastic Fantastic tableware doesn't even look like plastic.

''We've taken the world's most offensive product and given it back value and made it desirable,'' King says.

Uncannily, Plastic Fantastic's marine colours reflect the designers' other concern: the swirling mass of plastic in the north Pacific Ocean.

Rossler, who co-founded the homewares and jewellery company Dinosaur Designs, and King, a design curator who trained as an architect, got together two years ago during Sydney Design fortnight. The fused Hama beads at Rossler's Knitty Gritty & Loopy show caught King's eye.

''I felt that there was room to do something with plastic,'' King says. ''It should be as valuable as gold because it's a clever product that can last forever.''

Conversations led to experiments with squashing, melting and ironing plastic bags, putting them in the oven and blasting them with a hairdryer. Eventually, they discovered that wrapping a plastic bag around a mould and blasting it with a heat gun would render the material malleable and unrecognisable.

Transforming materials is the essence of ''supercycling'', a term they came up with to describe their work. The concept is a shift from up-cycling, which turns trash into treasure. Supercycling is about more dramatic transformations. ''It's not just taking a bent fork and turning into a bangle,'' Rossler says.

''We felt there was a place for an elevated way of looking at sustainability that wasn't crafty or backyard, but more surprising,'' King says.

Together, they formed Supercyclers, an ever-growing international band of designers who are building a sustainable approach into their products. Australians Tamara Mayne, Mark Vaarwerk, Henry Wilson and Andrew Simpson are part of the group, along with design practices from the Netherlands (VIJ5), Switzerland (Postfossil) and Germany (ett la benn).

Rossler and King launched the Supercyclers collective at the prestigious Milan Furniture Fair last year in an exhibition called The Other Hemisphere. They were bowled over by the response from Australian and international media. They returned to Milan earlier this year and the reaction again took them by surprise.

''We're doing something relatively simple but, for the public, it seemed phenomenal,'' Rossler says. ''It is indicative of the culture of people who think, 'I want to do something [about the environment], but I don't know what to do …' Here's something I could live with in my home and it is collectable and beautiful'.''

Wilson is on the way to becoming a collectable designer. He has just won the 2012 Qantas Spirit of Youth Award for craft and object design. Simpson's glass vases (made from solar panels) have been picked up by Established & Sons, which hopes to produce them for sale in Britain.

Initially, Rossler and King put their products into shops, but they have since decided to back away from retail. Instead, they want to focus on exhibition work that they will sell. ''We want to concentrate on the conceptual side,'' King says. ''If we make money, that's a bonus.''

Next month, six of the Supercyclers, including Rossler and King, will exhibit their work at 19 Greek Street Gallery House in London. They are planning a Melbourne show early next year. In the meantime, those who are curious can learn to make Plastic Fantastic utensils from the website.

''We're not copyrighting our designs,'' King says. ''We have to be part of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. We have to be part of the collaboration and sharing.''

Rossler says: ''Once you start to be generous with your ideas, people don't want to rip you off. They take the idea to a place of their own.''

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