He invented and built Precious Plastic, the largest open source recycling project in the world. But Dave Hakkens’s activism does not stop there

Precious Plastic is the participatory design community, which fights plastic waste with over 500 stations of recycling made in more than 100 countries around the world, from Australia to Sri Lanka and up to Indian Gujarat, from Shanghai to Salento.

It was created and developed by Dave Hakkens, the absolute pioneer of free and accessible design, which creates a network to affirm projects dedicated to major environmental issues. But his militancy goes far beyond the results obtained with Precious Plastic.

Participatory activism

Dutch, 34 years old, industrial designer, Dave Hakkens belongs to that generation of designers born in a world already overloaded with great global problems so complex and difficult to face, who wanted to strongly believe that they could try to solve them starting from the design.

And, as a forerunner, he has relied on the speed of the web to engage a growing number of activists, willing to help him grow his projects through forms of participatory design that have involved not only designers, but also makers, engineers, communicators, graphic designers, and small local production companies.

"Design to impact society," says Dave, "simply needs a fairly large critical mass. It needs a real army, one that tackles global problems and can have impact global.

For this reason we have created a project community which is much more than a design studio: it is an army of militants open to all those who want to unite to spread alternatives to current thinking on a large scale, and change (for the better) the company."

Anti-individualistic design

In his projects, created to stimulate social change, the diffusion of files counts more than the stylistic code they should convey, and the designer-author has no greater value than those who participate in the realization of his ideas. A modus operandi which totally excludes the cult of personal success, which has characterized design for many, perhaps too many, years.

Dave considers himself only one of the many that contribute to the success of his projects, so much so that in December 2020 with the video "GOODBYE Dave Hakkens" decides to 'kill' davehakkens.com "to give space and visibility to the entire army of all those who work with me on my projects (…) because it is not healthy for a designer to be an individual at the center of his professional strategy.

Thus was born One Army which, to underline where the community is located, uses the domain extension '.earth' for the site (and not the '.design' one).

Open source projects

Today 'One Army - Projects tackling global problems' conveys the numerous works made by Hakkens in the environmental field, all open source.

Starting from the very first, Phonebloks, a anti-waste cellphone with modular components that can be replaced at will, severe and deliberately without appeal, but ingenious, which Dave, in 2013, proposed to Nokia ( who started the Project Ara project, which later became Google and never arrived on the market) with the aim of making it a widely distributed object.

Also in 2013 he started the river project Precious Plastic, also based on open source file sharing and arrived today, 9 years after the first launch, at the third generation of machinery for the recycling of plastics.

Full expression of the One Army, Precious Plastic uses the communication platform Discord for its community (favored by gamers and with more than 250 million users worldwide ); he has created a Academy, which provides tutorials, download kits and templates, to facilitate the start-up of local PP activities; and has a Bazaar where the community can sell machinery, products and materials.

From 2020 onwards One Army continues to periodically launch new projects: Story Hopper, a series of videos for sharing information that "can change the habits of all and inspire communities around the world"; Project Kamp, where "prototyping a more sustainable way of life", put into practice in an abandoned farm near Coimbra, in Portugal, as "experimental laboratory that can serve as a model for anyone who wants to recreate it elsewhere"; and finally (but it will not be the last) Fixing Fashion, design and implementation of an online platform to teach users how to repair "99% of their clothes" and thus fight, from the ground up, the growing problem of post-consumer textile waste.

Projects that are all based on a more pragmatic than utopian vision of the role of the designer in society: for Hakkens the priority is to launch solutions that can quickly become operational all over the world (when in 2013 he received the Social Design Talent award for his plastic recycling machines, Hakkens immediately offered to donate the money obtained to anyone who could help him improve his idea).

An approach that brings to mind certain 'political' projects by Enzo Mari, created to give a new perspective to the relationship with design.

Like 'Self-design' of the 1970s, domestic furnishings that the user himself could make by following the instructions sent in helium copy on request, by Mari himself. Or the 'Ecolo' kit, to create a vase from plastic bottles for mineral water, produced by Alessi in 1992.

And beauty?

Those extraordinary projects were born from a cultural climate of militant criticism very far from today, but especially for Mari, the social utopia could never be separated from the search for the beauty of form. In the projects of the 'Hakkens generation', on the other hand, social and environmental intelligence seem to win over the poetics of form.

The enthusiasm of 'doing for the environment' has too often given rise to objects devoid of aesthetic beauty (and sometimes even meaning): carabiners, handles, vases, benches, recycled plastic bricks, frankly without appeal. But perhaps something is moving in the direction of aesthetic research.

In the (infinite) pages of products that the community sells in the Bazaar, there are a series of symbolic objects, the Precious Plastic Originals collection, among which The Diamond: recycled plastic monoliths, on sale in the Bazaar for 7 thousand euros, created "because the plastic is made up of fossil fuels or crude oil that took thousands of years to create and that are running out, and it's time to deal this scarce and limited resource as a precious and rare material".

The Diamonds, useless and beautiful objects. And this, we must admit, is poetic...