After the pandemic, what are businesses and institutions going to do with all of the plexi shields they put up? Plexi (a/k/a Plexiglas, or acrylic) is a No. 7 plastic, like nylon, which is not easily recyclable and often ends up in landfill.
"Ayodeji Oluwalana, recycling and special events coordinator for Iowa State University Facilities Planning and Management, with the plexiglass barriers that will soon be coming down inside the General Services Building."
Merry Rankin, director of Iowa State University's Office of Sustainability, is eyeing ISU's 500-something barriers that will eventually have to come down. She reached out to Dan Neubauer, an associate teaching professor at ISU's Industrial Design department, to see if ID could help. According to ISU News,
"Neubauer presented his students with the general idea, which was vague besides knowing they would have to find a need for the plexiglass. "There were a lot of discussions of provenance and the charged nature of the material," he said. "Students had to decide if they wanted to acknowledge the fact that this material was once a barrier that divided us and kept us safe versus a material to be upcycled and reclaimed.
"Industrial design senior Jacob Laufenberg created a Desk Organizer Stress and Anxiety Reliever (DOSAR) out of recycled plexiglass barriers."
"The major theme of this class…is social connection and impact. We've had a lot of discussions of how our designs are not only material projects, but how they can impact our society.
"Ideas so far include turning the barriers into rechargeable [sic] laptop desks, organizational desk tools, large-scale interactive art installations – even class rings for those who didn't get to have an in-person commencement ceremony last year. Some barriers, of course, will remain standing or will be reused as is once they are no longer needed due to COVID-19 as departments such as University Museums and Parks Library have found them useful for functionality and directional assistance."
"Industrial design senior Payton Stelling turned plexiglass barriers into an adjustable portable table for those working from home."
I think the poetry of the class rings idea is nice—think of that entire generation of students who missed out on graduation—and the signage idea sounds great, but I'm also keen to see what useful things could be made that would benefit an even greater portion of society. The barriers will surely be coming down soon; if Neubauer and other school's ID departments were to continue tackling the issue next semester, what suggestions would you have for them?