There was a point in recent history when it seemed like the world had run out of disposable face masks, sometimes referred to as surgical masks. Eventually, however, supply eventually caught up with demand, and the use of such protective gear became so commonplace that people bought it in bulk. Unfortunately, these masks were not exactly made for ordinary people and in situations where they would not be properly disposed of. Unfortunately, what was once a tool that could save lives has become poison for the planet, especially our already polluted waters. Although restrictions have been lifted in many places, these single-use masks are still in high demand and are also used outside of the medical field, and the harm these discarded masks pose to the environment has been demonstrated to dramatic effect in a stool made almost entirely out of this personal protective gear out.
Designer: Tobia Zambotti
Surgical masks look so simple that the materials from which they are made are most likely self-evident. Most probably assume they’re made from biodegradable material because of the cloth or paper feel, but that’s not entirely true. They are made from a specific type of plastic and cannot be recycled due to their use in medical scenarios. This makes them dangerous pollutants, whether burned in incinerators or dumped in water.
Given the amount of single-use masks that are regularly produced and discarded, this can easily create an environmental problem. What makes the situation even worse is that very few people are aware of this situation, let alone the harmful potential of these masks. So what better way to get their attention than to put this number into perspective in a rather shocking way?
COUCH-19 does this in a sensible but also useful way. Hundreds of used masks are collected and then disinfected with ozone before being buried in a stool made of recyclable crystal PVC. Each stool is modular so they can be combined with others to form a couch of your own liking. The puffs are irregularly shaped to give the appearance of masks frozen in time. The iceberg-like design is said to be a reference to global warming.
As a couch, the COUCH-19 looks both interesting and a bit disturbing, which is part of the message. While there’s no doubt that it can function as a piece of furniture, its appearance is alien enough to pause our brains and force us to confront the reality these masks convey, that of a world in which we may be constrained to live with the junk we so thoughtlessly throw away.