[High-density Polyethylene] 

/ˈplastɪk/ - polyolefin

Material Journey: Oil - Saudi Arabia/Nigeria -> South Africa - Manufactured into HDPE [5 974km] - global

Recyclable, Revalue, Reclaim, Reinvent, Rethink.

An olefin, made from oil, a scourge to the environment and our cities, a signifier of industrial gain, profit and waste. Johannesburg, South Africa has an interesting relationship with plastic. It centres around the plastic Reclaimer, or Picker: a person that is part of a network of informal recycling who relies on the value of plastic and our consistent use of it to earn a living. This is done by traversing the city with massive bags on carts filled with ‘waste’, sorting it and selling it to buy-back centres for processing, Reclaimers currently get between R2.20-R3.20 per kilogram.

The work done by reclaimers casts an extremely long shadow. It has created a lazy way for residents of suburban areas to discard plastic knowing someone else will process it using knowledge garnered from years of material interaction. Reclaimers have a material vocabulary unlike ours, one so sensitive to material value.

My exploration of HDPE is a means of trying to create something that represents the value inherent in the material. The process involves safely grinding and melting down bottles once containing household detergents and sunblock- which infuse smells of the materials’ past life into the object; the material is cast into cubes and then processed.  Plastic marbling, reminiscent of that of a valuable stone.

The possibility of changing our perceived value of plastic starts with us understanding the distance it has travelled and places it can go. A futur jewel of the complex Johannesburg.
matte’s buffing plastic HDPE.


Matthew Binary Edwards.

Founder and Designer of matte.

Johannesburg, South Africa.

matte is an experimental design studio from Johannesburg, focussed on designing with materials and processes in the South African context. Our approach to design is based on the concept of REIY (Recycle/redesign/reduce It Yourself) and MAKE DO, ways of working that push a variation of sustainable design in South Africa.

#migrantmaterial #design #product #restoration