In 2013, a young Dutch designer became world-famous for his modular and sustainable smartphone concept, Phonebloks. Four years later, he is focusing on another major issue: reducing plastic waste. We sat down with Dave Hakkens in his workshop to talk about the idea behind Precious Plastic.

Sometimes, good ideas come to you when brushing your teeth. Quite literally so in Dave Hakkens case. The young designer started questioning the length of his tooth brush’s plastic handle. Wouldn’t it work just as well if the handle was half an inch shorter?

Dave Hakkens, founder of Precious Plastic
Designer Dave Hakkens in his workshop.

Cutting off the tip of his tooth brush was only the beginning. Dave Hakkens has since founded Precious Plastic – a project dedicated to pointing out overuse of plastic as well as repurposing excess plastic in products to create new valuable objects.

The Precious Plastic project supports DIY recycling

He developed a set of three machines that were able to turn plastic into pellets that could then be the base for something new. The machinery’s blueprints were distributed free online: Hakkens wants to make DIY recycling accessible to everyone.

The plan to equip the world with the knowledge on recycling plastic started in a small workshop in Helmond in the southern part of the Netherlands.

The space houses not only a cozy office but also, in a corner, the “Precious Plastic Museum”, an area that showcases some of the interesting results of his experimental techniques. Tableware, vases, and lampshade – just as beautiful as unique.

Precious Plastic Version 3 plan drawn on a glas window
Visions on the workshop window.

Hakkens, a maker with a problem-solver’s mindset, always prepared to answer challenges with a hands-on approach. His designs are often practical and contain a distinct purpose. The inspiration behind the products comes from some of Hakkens’ real-life experiences.

Whether coming up with innovative ways to reduce waste while participating in a beach cleanup in Bali or the tooth brush incident, you can tell that there is a deep curiosity in his attempts to make the world a better place.

“When I visit new places, I usually try to go see a landfill, not a resort. I enjoy capturing and showing these things to the world since not a lot of people get to see those places.”

Sustainable plastic design in progress
A machine weaves a plastic thread.

Using the power of the community

As a designer, Hakkens loves exploring materials and crafting with his hands. Still, he admits that “sometimes, building something physical is not the best solution.”

Early on, the designer acknowledged that the global problem of plastic waster calls for local solutions. His aim is to create a global community of recyclers that can tap into a shared pool of knowledge and tools to start their own process of recycling.

Dave Hakkens holding a plastic bowl
Innovative design – from shredded plastic to a lampshade.
Colorful plastic design
Plastic Design by Precious Plastic

To him, sharing knowledge is a necessary process that keeps ideas flowing and tweaks coming in. A solid version of the machines, along with instructional videos, and the open-source blueprints are available — a complete beginner’s kit that can enable people to start recycling immediately.

“We believe this has the biggest impact on recycling. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to start.”

Video tutorials will get you jump started

However, building a copy of a recycling machine, even with the right design blueprints, is not common practice for most people. To facilitate the process, Hakkens and his team have created step-by-step video tutorials to get everyone on board.

“Right now, plastic often feels disposable and cheap, being rather thin and lightweight. So we’re exploring colors, textures and weight to make plastic more appealing, more precious.”

Dave Hakkens in the Precious Plastic studio
Wants to give plastic a valuable appeal: Dave Hakkens.

Hakkens knows that increasing the mass appeal of his idealistic notion has to be the next step in order to make a real impact. Therefore, it may be harder to run into him these days.

Splitting time between his Helmond workshop and the rest of the world, Hakkens is inspiring and activating users, presenting the useful potential of plastic and making it “precious” again.