Italian designer Tobia Zambotti used discarded disposable masks as padding for modular furniture to raise awareness of the amount of plastic waste generated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unfortunately, most of the masks used are disposable and, like medical waste, cannot be recycled in the traditional way,” comments the designer. “In fact, they are very often disposed of by incineration, a procedure that produces large amounts of toxic fumes that contribute to global overheating. In other cases, it happens that they are not properly disposed of and end up on the ground, polluting and deteriorating the environment. Italy, one of the European countries hardest hit by COVID-19, is currently faced with the challenge of disposing of such waste.”
Called COUCH-19, in reference to Covid-19, the design is filled with personal protective equipment (PPE) collected by residents of Pergine Valsugana, Zambotti’s hometown in northern Italy. The light blue masks are covered in clear PVC to serve as a reminder that the 10,000 face coverings used to make the sofa are just a fraction of the 129 billion that have been thrown away worldwide every month since the pandemic began.
It’s estimated that about 75 percent will end up in landfills or float in our waterways, where over the course of about 450 years they will break down into microplastics and be ingested by marine life. “We are facing a pandemic of simple, cheap and disposable plastic solutions such as masks, gloves and face shields, even though there are excellent environmentally friendly alternatives and we all know how important it is to use them,” Zambotti said. “My goal with this project was to turn what is considered trash into something meaningful.”
Zambotti recruited volunteers via a Facebook post and in a short time several cubic meters of white and blue disposable masks were collected, which were subsequently disinfected with nitrogen and safely stored to later become fancy padding. The masks are compressed into modules and covered with recyclable PVC. They can be combined into several configurations – from a regular sofa to a chaise lounge. The material is durable, transparent and “icy”. The shape of the furniture, according to Zambotti, is inspired by icebergs, one of the most iconic symbols of global warming.