The Shing Mun River in Sha Tin, a residential town in Hong Kong, has struggled with plastic waste pollution for years. Household waste that is not properly recycled will either end up in landfills or floating in the river. In 2018 almost 17 million plastic items, or 40,000 items daily, were found to be drained into the ocean via the Shing Mun River, mostly being food packaging, cutleries, and household plastic bottles. This quantity of plastic pollution in the river and surrounding environment could eventually jeopardize the natural ecosystem irreversibly.
Inspired by the concept of "what is taken from the community, must be returned to the community," HIR Studio began by recycling plastic bottles collected from the riverside town, having them processed and further remodeled into new public benches. These benches were then installed in the Sha Tin District’s Town Hall for pedestrians to enjoy.
In collaboration with local community organizations in Shatin, HIR Studio worked for a period of two months collecting household plastics that were discarded during popular weekend events. A group of local residents helped to categorize the waste into the seven types of plastics. At the end of the two-month period, a total of 500 kg of plastics were collected -- a majority of which were HDPE bottles of washing liquids, detergents, bleaching agents, and other household products. The plastics were then cleaned, processed, and ground into pellets, prior to being transported to a local furniture factory where they were molded in a large oven.
Two steel molds with ingrained profiles and textures were used to produce five hundred plastic module pieces, which were subsequently fixed with steel tie rods, into twelve benches of varying lengths and forms. All the module pieces were created identical, yet each is rotated at a specific angle to form curvilinear shapes resembling the ripples on a river. The curvilinear beams also serve to naturally separate the users for increased privacy. The design is adaptable by assembling varied numbers of modules in diverse rotations. Alongside the imperfect color of the recycled plastic, the variation of modules renders each bench with a unique appearance.
The manufacturing of recycled plastics has become a new and rarified phenomenon in Hong Kong. Public seating has traditionally been made primarily of materials such as wood and fabric, which wear out in several years and are replaced, leading to increased material wastage. Recycled plastic is an excellent alternative, as it reduces the production of virgin plastic, and helps to build a local circular ecosystem. The simple assembly of plastic with steel fixings makes it easy to recycle the public bench after years of usage, in the same design or in any other form.
The newly designed benches remain in a public area of the Town Hall for Sha Tin locals to use freely and to experience the tangible benefits of the materials they have recycled. Physically touching and interacting with these recycled benches allows the local citizens to become more curious about what recycling actually means - it’s exciting and unlimited potential.
HIR Studio hopes that the local citizens will enjoy the benches for years to come, and that this sense of belonging will inspire more people to join in the movement by learning how to recycle and upcycle their daily waste. With greater involvement of local residents, the quantity of recycled plastic would increase and subsequently more products and architectural items can be made of high-quality recycled plastic, strengthening the circular economy in the long run.