Upcycling in Taiwan is changing the way we see trash
Plastic bottle pavilions and urban-mined glasses, Trashpresso and the waste that it slashes, upcycled film theatres and recycled plane wings, these are a few of Miniwiz’s favourite things… made from trash
Everything can be made out of trash.Arthur Huang
“We are constantly producing loads of sh*t,” remarks visionary engineer Arthur Huang. “I hate that people are still talking about the circular economy and not doing anything.”
Designer, architect and self-professed “do-er” Arthur Huang believes it’s wise to minimise. His Taiwan-based closed-loop architectural firm Miniwiz builds its business out of upcycling creations, such as iconic government buildings, prestigious retail interiors, industrial-scale recycling, aircrafts and hospital wards, major marketing installations and high performance eyewear and furniture.
In 2005, the energetic Arthur took the profits from his first breakthrough sustainable product line (solar and wind powered charging devices called HYmini) to self-fund Miniwiz in Taipei, Taiwan. He originally saw it as “anger-management therapy” for the things in the world that are not very fair, such as the treatment of people, the distribution of materials and wealth.
“Trash is an abundant and highly valuable source of premium grade plastics, metals and fibres, all perfectly good materials to be used and reused time and time again, he tells us, “and with its supply rising by 70% each year, the cost-efficiency of trash as a scalable resource is already hugely viable.”
Since then, his engineering company has turned human-made pollution into a resource – particularly plastic, electronic, food, agricultural, packaging and automotive waste – by making materials that are 100% recycled.
“TRASHLAB is the place we cook up material miracles every single day, exploring hundreds of recipes before finding the highest performance outcomes. Inventing new machinery, imagining new techniques and molecular treatments are all part of our daily routine reflecting our tireless commitment to our goal-creatina truly circular economy. And most importantly, it’s all with zero toxicity and can be re-recycled again.”
As people like new stuff, Miniwiz focuses on making and marketing attractive upcycled DIY products that people actually want to buy. While Miniwiz re-engineers waste into products like iPhone covers made from rice husk, wine bottle carriers made from recycled motherboard casings and sunglasses made from recycled CDs, its main focus is using waste plastics to improve the carbon footprint of buildings – as they are responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Its high-end recycled plastic products range from a curtain wall system made from 100% recycled PET, a composite made from recycled polymers and agricultural waste and a fibre made with 100% recycled PET and silicon dioxide from rice husks. It has even built an e-waste recycling plant out of recycled materials. But one of Miniwiz’s most high profile – and most futuristic – projects is the nine-story-high EcoARK Pavilion, a major showcase of sustainable engineering, unveiled at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition. Built out of 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles, its interlocking honeycomb-like POLLI-Brick system avoided the need for any chemical bonding agents.
While many still take a lot of convincing that waste plastic is a viable solution, the world’s major forward-thinking brands like Nike are also adopting the concept of waste plastic as a viable manufacturing solution, with Miniwiz counting Philip Morris, Coca-Cola and Starwood hotels amongst its clients.
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Now they have made everything from high-end furniture to aircraft components and entire hospital wards out of what others might consider worthless. “We’ve been able to prove time and time again that materials from trash can outperform the virgin materials our society has traditionally depended upon.”
Since COVID-19, Miniwiz invested heavily into R&D to develop products that combat bacteria and viruses. It launched the first modular hospital ward concept in a partnership with the Center For Innovation at Fu Jen Catholic University Hospital. The negatively pressurised clean rooms are designed specifically to allow hospitals to control the risk of biocontamination or particle contamination. Miniwiz’s signature PET wall panels, nano coated with recycled aluminum, coupled with UV self-cleaning system, drastically reduces 99.9% of bacteria count, while repelling viruses.
“Sustainable beyond concept delivery, Miniwiz will maximise the use of post-consumer single-use material including aluminium cans and PET bottles,” said the studio. “These materials will then be upcycled into medical-grade antiviral/bacterial materials.”
Once nicknamed ‘Garbage Island’, Taiwan now boasts one of the highest recycling rates in the world. So far, much of the work mined from the world’s waste done by Miniwiz has been in the manufacturing powerhouse that is Taiwan, but it wants to replicate similar recycling networks in China and the US. The final goal is to be able to substitute any virgin material. “We believe that everything can be made out of trash,” the company asserts.
In 2023, in a new video for What Design Can Do’s Make it Circular Challenge which invites innovators everywhere to radically redesign a fairer and more sustainable world, Arthur explains the driving force behind his designs, and the changes he hopes to see in his industry. He also shared his take on the future of circular design, and why he believes “trash is just misplaced resources.”
What’s so good about this?
The world can be a pretty frustrating place to live in. Never before have humankind produced, consumed – or thrown away – so much stuff. Our phone breaks? We get a new one. We buy food? It’s covered in plastic packaging. It’s no wonder that 45% of all global emissions today come from the production of everyday goods and services. We need to face the problem head-on, which is why What Design Can Do launched the global Make it Circular Challenge. Watch more videos with renowned designers who are working to change their industries from the inside out.
Meet the writer
Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”