Michela Panizza constructs gym accessories with discarded surgical masks

The Italy-based product designer recycled masks made out of polypropylene to build solid objects that can be lifted, punched and rolled.

by Almas SadiquePublished on : Jan 20, 2023

The ill effects of mass consumerism and reckless inventions usually manifest in ways that are not explicitly apparent. News about melting glaciers and rising sea levels are often communicated through animated graphics or unrelated visuals of waterbodies that, to the layman, come across as an obscure issue affecting some other part of the globe. On the other hand, polluted air emitted by global industries, despite its all-pervasive nature and well-documented damaging effects, fails to pose as a monster in the minds of people. The propensity to dispose of large amounts of waste in water bodies and landfills results in the camouflaging of an issue that needs focused attention. One can surmise that most ecological concerns get brushed under the rug simply because if it is out of sight, they can be out of one's mind too.

Against these negligent circumstances, tangible reminders of the weight exerted by toxins on the environment continue to allude us. A recent invention that bears the potential to prompt active responses from its users is Peso by Milan-based product designer Michela Panizza. The designer describes Peso, which translates to ‘weight’ in Italian, as “a collection of objects ‘on’ our actions.” Configured using plastic surgical masks that are otherwise disposed of in large quantities and end up in landfills, lakes, seas, and oceans. Peso comprises a series of gym accessories that on the one hand serve pragmatic purposes and on the other, inform users about the weight of their waste. “Peso is a project that wants to be a message before an object,” Panizza says.

Peso equipment by Michela Panizza | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
Peso equipment by Michela Panizza Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza

The Italian designer envisioned Peso as a project that not only utilises recycling techniques to build usable objects by processing that which has been discarded but also as a stimulus for those who encounter Panizza’s gym weights and punching bags. “I want people to pause and make them aware of the weight that we are leaving behind due to the pandemic. The world begins to weigh more than before with all our wrong daily actions. I want to sensitise each of us, including myself, to try to improve through small changes, such as recycling, in order to bring the Earth back to fly free like a balloon full of air without all this unwanted weight,” the product designer shares.

  • Michela Panizza’s process to create Peso | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Michela Panizza’s process to create Peso Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza
  • Composition of surgical masks | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Composition of surgical masks Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza
  • A graphic by Michela Panizza delineating the process of turning masks into gym equipment | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    A graphic by Michela Panizza delineating the process of turning masks into gym equipment Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza

We regularly discard shampoo and detergent bottles, food containers, glasses, and toys, all of which have seemingly negligible weights and sizes. However, over time, this waste accumulates to form a sizeable mound. Similarly, several billion disposable face masks—each of which is used for an average duration of two to three hours—are discarded every year. They are composed of nearly 95 percent polypropylene, a thermoplastic that takes nearly 450 years to decompose, but can be heated and cooled to structure and restructure the entity almost indefinitely, with minimal loss in the product’s structural integrity. This paves the way for completely recycling surgical masks, and in the process, creating usable objects that fulfil the criteria of sustainable design. “My project wants to raise awareness that plastics such as polypropylene should not be used for objects that are discarded after a few minutes or hours of usage, such as masks. Instead, they should be used for objects that resist and serve our planet for years, so as to have as little waste as possible,” the designer asserts.

  • Sorting through the masks | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Sorting through the masks Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza
  • Processing masks into gym objects | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Processing masks into gym objects Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza

Panizza began the process of building Peso by first sorting through mounds of masks to pick out the classic surgical masks that are made up of three layers of polypropylene. After removing the elastic bands and the metal underwire from each mask, she placed them in a pot and cooked them until they dissolved to form a creamy consistency. This concoction was then poured into silicone moulds designed by Panizza and left to cool for around five hours. The result is a set of five products, the barbell, the AB roller wheel, the dumbbell, the earth weight, and the punching bag.

  • PAB roller wheel by Michela Panizza | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    AB roller wheel by Michela Panizza Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza
  • Punching bag by Michela Panizza | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Punching bag by Michela Panizza Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza
  • Dumbbell by Michela Panizza | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Dumbbell by Michela Panizza Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza

In creating objects that are not only aesthetically pleasing but are also pivoted on addressing extant issues pertaining to the unhealthy level of waste produced, Panizza envisions the start of a journey that can further encompass projects at larger scales and in public locales. “The idea is to create structures useful to my city to be able to support costs and replace raw materials with recycled materials for a lower environmental impact and also to safeguard the raw materials that today are running out because of our redundancies,” she shares with STIR.

  • Barbell by Michela Panizza | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Barbell by Michela Panizza Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza
  • Peso Earth by Michela Panizza | Peso | Michela Panizza | STIRworld
    Peso Earth by Michela Panizza Image: Courtesy of Michela Panizza

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