Sustainability is at the core of north-east business Origin Plastics, which is aiming to completely redefine the value and perception of waste plastic.
Incorporated in February 2019, Origin is the brainchild of three talented designers, all of which are working out of their testbed site on campus at Robert Gordon University.
Each member has had their own role in developing the inspiring brand, with Ben Durack acting as director of innovation, Scott Robertson as director of production, and Daniel Sutherland as director of commercialisation.
Ben, Scott and Daniel all work at Gray’s School of Art, and decided to launch Origin because they believe that plastic is an incredibly valuable material. However, they also described the way we use it across the globe as “terrible.”
“To date, only 9% of our global plastic waste has ever been recycled,” Ben said.
“Currently, products are made in highly centralised and linear consumption models that are difficult to map and impact upon.
“Products are thrown away once used, or when they come to the end of their designated lifespan, creating massive volumes of waste and carbon with high levels of shipping also involved.
“As designers, we’ve seen this up close, having worked on countless products that eventually move through these supply chains. So, we started Origin to offer an alternative model for design and consumption, a localised and circular one.
“Origin exists to make every element of material use and product design completely transparent – allowing the public to see for themselves exactly what happens to their waste plastic. Quality and transparency are what we strive for in all our work.
“We aim to allow our customers to get much closer to the design, production and disposal of the products they purchase.”
The trio has developed an approach to circularity that allows them to recycle materials and design exciting new products, to be produced at the source of the waste to reduce our collective carbon footprint.
These products, to date, include miniature planters in a variety of different shades.
Speaking on the production process, Ben explained they “collect waste plastic from local businesses and the local community”.
“Being designers, we design and develop every aspect of our products, including the tooling and the machines themselves,” Ben added.
“Step one is sorting and cleaning the plastic waste – our partners often carry this step out for us.
“Step two is to break the plastic down into flakes using our shredder. We then mix these plastic flakes to create our bespoke colour combinations in our injection moulding machine which heats and melts the plastic, injecting it into our tool.
“This is followed by us simply removing the injected part from the tool and cleaning up the final part before packaging the mini planter and ceramic drip tray in our bespoke packaging that is wholly plastic free – right down to the glue used for the label.
“Our current set up is very labour intensive and currently takes in the region of 10 minutes per product.
“We have partnered with an industry-leading injection moulding company and are currently developing technology to scale production up to be able to increase production to 30 seconds per product.
“Scott, Daniel and I are mission-driven and guided by our core values, which guide the development of every new product.
“Most single-use plastic is used for less than 15 minutes and our ambition is to design products with heirlooms in mind, extending the life of our products as far as possible.
“Our designs are often simple by design to highlight the waste plastic and the unique marbling introduced by our manufacturing process.”
Although the business owners only launched their miniature planters in November, these – along with the brand’s ethos as a whole – has grabbed people’s attention locally and further afield.
Ben said: “We launched our product in November last year and, so far, have focussed on direct to consumer sales, selling both through the recent Aberdeen Inspired Christmas Market and online through our website.
“We are looking to engage with local businesses moving forward to explore opportunities for distribution and new product development.
“The three of us have been blown away by the public’s response to Origin and our first product. We sold out online in our first week and sold out at the Christmas Market all three weeks we attended.
“Every single product we sell creates impact. Every purchase is a positive action for our environment. Every product we design comes with the quality of a luxury brand, coupled with the assurance of tangible sustainability.”
And while Origin would not be where it is today without the combined efforts of Ben, Scott and Daniel, the entrepreneurs explained that if it were not for their close connection to Gray’s School of Art, they would never have been able to make as much progress as they have so far.
Ben added: “Scott, Daniel and I have been very fortunate indeed with the support that we have received from organisations and individuals in general so far.
“The experience has actually shown us just how important networking and networks really are. However, in particular, Gray’s School of Art has been our biggest supporter to date.
“The opportunity to pursue Origin in the first place was born out of the ‘sustainability’ theme and ethos that has become so prevalent in the school community.
“Not only have we been supported with resources and space during our start-up experience, but we have also been lucky enough to have students come and work with us which has brought a huge amount of creativity and energy to the process.”
Despite the fact that the close-knit team hold positions at Gray’s School of Art – Ben being a lecturer, Daniel an academic strategic lead, and Scott in his full-time final year as a student studying three-dimensional design – they are confident in their ability to continue growing Origin.
“Being a local start-up, we have relied heavily on our networks and have leveraged these where possible,” Ben added. “But with the impacts of Covid-19, we have had to focus on growing brand awareness online through social media.
“By partnering with other local businesses and recycling their plastic waste we have gained traction through our partners and through word of mouth, with most people buying into our message and solution.
“2021 is all about scale for the business. We have a clear ambition of establishing our first full-scale Origin hub this year, which will be located in a highly visible public space.
“We will grow our ability to collect, recycle and transform local plastic waste into something useful and valuable.
“Additionally, Origin will establish local circular economies that negate the need to collectively ship plastic waste around the world and bring real transparency to plastic recycling – giving our customers and our supporters confidence that the plastic we use has been saved from landfill.
“But all in all, we are looking forward to resuming production and restocking our online store and impacting local plastic waste throughout 2021.”
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