People Powered Plastic

People Powered Plastic

Arthur Rowland introduces Plastic Tactics, a social enterprise which is building a People-Powered Plastic Playground in Picton, and making it easier for people to make new things from old plastic in Merseyside.

What do you get when you combine a fly tip with abundant plastic waste? It turns out that somehow, you end up with a fascinated 4-year-old tightly holding a colourful coaster with quiet curiosity. At The Bridge, an unassuming patch of land running alongside the railway tracks in Picton, an eyesore is gradually turning into an eye-awe thanks to the hard work of local residents. Once a fly tip, the land is now put to use by and for the local community. With a restful garden and wood recycling projects already in place, a philosophy of by-the-people, for-the-people is bringing together long-time L8, L7 and L15 residents with incoming students and graduates to work for the common good. Springing off the site is Plastic Tactics, a social enterprise making it easier for people to make new things from old plastic in Merseyside. That’s us, writing this. Over the last year, we have collected hundreds of plastic sweet tubs from the local community. You know – the sort of tubs full of little chocolates that you buy in December to build up your winter coat, but are limited in which ones you can reuse in January since you don’t usually have five cakes on the go. Well we built a shredding machine and a melting machine, and turned those plastic tubs into clothes pegs, plant pots, tiles and coasters.

Once we figured out how to do it in the safety of our city centre workshop, we started taking the entire process out into the community, which is how we ended up at Liverpool’s world class festival, Africa Oyé. Remember the 4-year-old holding a colourful coaster? When people came to our stall at Oyé, they were disappointed not to find chocolate within our mountains of colourful sweet tubs, but took a piece of plastic out of one, fed it through the hand-cranked shredder until it drizzled out as little flakes, then watched those flakes being melted and squeezed into a brand new thing – that coaster.

Coasters made from recycled sweet tubs

Over the 2 days of the festival, we took hundreds of people on the journey from waste to opportunity, watching us recycling ‘waste’ plastic into new products in real-time with our home-made equipment – partly made from scrap materials. Not only did they see it, but they got to feel the process with the hand-cranked shredder, complaining that it was difficult. Well yes – it turns out someone else has been doing the difficult bit after you throw it in the bin.

That substantial effort has largely been out of sight, and out of mind. We like to think that getting people hands-on like this helps them rediscover plastic as a precious material, and question how they use it, that it interrupts the concept of waste, sets off a little alarm bell when throwing things in the bin, and leads to questions about the systemic forces that encourage us to stuff that bin with plastic. We’ve done a few more events since then, carrying our machines about on a cargo bike provided by last-mile logistics legends Agile Liverpool. As much as we love going on tour, with a permanent space we could do so much more. So we’re building our own home, called the Plastic Playground.

Plastics can be recycled to create attractive materials to make a range of new things with

If that same 4-year-old visited the Plastic Playground, they could make their own pencil case. Choosing from our library of designs and using their own household waste along with some other colours from a pick’n’mix style wall of colourful plastic flakes, they could take it into school the next day. But it’s for kids of all ages – you too can turn plastic into practical products.

Picton has the lowest recycling rate outside of the city centre and according to DEFRA, just 7 out of hundreds of local authorities in England have lower recycling rates than our cut-to-the-bone Council. The potential impact on waste here is huge. We have a structure – a 40ft shipping container, ready and waiting to go at The Bridge.

We have a design – a local architect has developed a plan to convert it into a safe and effective environment, and an engineering student funded by the Low Carbon Eco Innovatory has worked out the details of the conversion. Together we can create a pioneering social space for this sometimes-overlooked area, and an opportunity for people to socialise, learn, and even start small businesses using this kit. When it opens, we will have an inclusive membership structure for people using the space to keep it financially viable, along with our commercial on and off-site workshops. Our vision is a fresh culture – by taking responsibility for our plastic, we can make the most of this precious material at a grassroots level. Feel like getting involved? Our regular Plastic Playgroup at DoES Liverpool is suspended due to Covid-19, but please contact team[at] for a broad range of volunteering opportunities, initially based on converting the shipping container.

We offer workshops to businesses and at events – so get in touch if you’d like us to run our unique sessions for your staff or visitors, even if it will be many months before we can do so safely. Raising income in this way keeps us financially secure and independent of grant funding. And we are eternally grateful for our Patrons who donate a small amount each month – you can join us at Take control of plastic with us.

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