On a beautiful summer evening, some of the most influential figures in the Dutch design world gathered on the roof terrace at de Bijenkorf in Dam Square to listen to a designer, a manufacturer, and a client share their perspectives on the industry challenges of designing with plastic and improving sustainability.

The event was Frame MINDS and the theme was Rethinking Plastic: Trash or Treasure? 11 July saw the third edition of MINDS since the launch of the speaker series by Frame at Milan Design Week earlier this year.

Designer Dave Hakkens set the tone for the evening with his thought-provoking Precious Plastic installation in two of de Bijenkorf display windows. The installation is a literal expression of the evening’s theme, demonstrating as it does piles of plastic trash in one window, and the treasure into which it can be transformed in the second window.

The Precious Plastic installation is part of his ongoing project which democratizes the process of recycling plastic. According to Hakkens, only 10% of the tons of plastic produced each year is recycled, because it involves a prohibitive process of sorting, washing, shredding, and stabilizing – each of which happens in a different facility – before the plastic waste is ready to rejoin the chain of production.

Hakkens’s response was to invent four basic machines for the extrusion, injection molding, compressing, and shredding of plastic waste, designed to be easy to build and requiring only readily available tools and materials. Hakkens shares the plans and designs of these machines for free through the Precious Plastic project, and people all over the world have downloaded his plans and built his machines to create new objects from recycled plastic.

However, these community efforts can only make a tiny dent in the overflowing landfills of plastic waste. According to Hakkens, true sustainability is not just about recycling – we also need to reexamine our attitudes towards plastic as a material.

‘People consider plastic to be a cheap, disposable material,’ says Hakkens. ‘But we believe that plastic is precious. Metal rusts and wood rots, but plastic endures for hundreds of years.’

Hence his installation at de Bijenkorf, a statement of proof to the world that plastic can be used to make precious objects. Inspired by diamonds – which also last forever – Hakkens created a diamond-like work of art that’s flecked with colour like an acrylic painting.

The next speaker was Coen Viguurs. A product development manager with mannequin manufacturer Hans Boodt, Viguurs is a designer himself, but represented the manufacturing industry at the MINDS event.

Viguurs revealed the efforts that Hans Boodt is making to be more sustainable – from presenting new designs using 3D-renders to eliminate the cost of transporting an actual mannequin, to 3D-printing mannequin prototypes in biodegradable materials, to second-life initiatives that redistribute used Hans Boodt mannequins to schools and museums.

However, Viguurs explained that in spite of manufacturing innovations into mannequins made of biodegradable paper-pulp or fibreglass which can be repurposed into concrete, the choice lies with their customers. Mannequins such as these can cost up to 15% more, and at the end of the day, the fashion houses and stores that are his customers are making that choice based on the price tag.

Finally, we heard from Vincent Sturkenboom, creative director of de Bijenkorf. Sturkenboom represents the money of the industry – the client who commissions work by designers and architects, the decision-maker with the power to choose to be more sustainable, in spite of the price tag.

‘We are willing to pay more for sustainability,’ he declares in direct response to Viguurs. The Precious Plastic installation in de Bijenkorf windows is a case in point. ‘We think it’s more important to create a conversation about sustainability than to sell those two windows,’ he says.

Frame founder Robert Thiemann, the moderator of the event, was quick to ask Sturkenboom for more evidence of his dedication to sustainability.

‘Since the 1st of January this year, we only use green energy in our stores,’ Sturkenboom replied. He went on to list that de Bijenkorf encourages its employees to drive electric company cars, is converting its packaging to use a more eco-friendly ink, and has strict guidelines on environmental responsibility which it enforces on suppliers and brands.

Jasper Jansen, founding partner of i29 interior architects, was in attendance – and laughingly vouched for his client. (i29 designed Room on the Roof, the venue of MINDS Rethinking Plastic; as well as The Kitchen restaurant in Utrecht for de Bijenkorf.) ‘Sustainability was indeed part of the brief!’ Jansen reassured the crowd.

The evening ended on that playful and positive note, as established industry leaders engaged in discussion with fresh-faced design students and manufacturers shook hands with architects.

Jasper Jansen, founding partner of i29 interior architects, was in attendance

‘You always need a talented designer, an excellent maker, and a visionary client to arrive at great solutions – whether that be in interiors, products or packaging,’ says Frame founder Robert Thiemann.