February 1, 2023

There was a point in very recent history when it seemed that the world had run out of single-use face masks, sometimes referred to as surgical masks. Eventually, however, supply did finally catch up to demand, and the use of such protective gear became so common that people would acquire them in bulk. Unfortunately, these masks weren’t made exactly made with regular people in mind and in situations where they would not be disposed of properly. What was a tool that helped save human lives, unfortunately, became poison to 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 use, including outside the medical field, and the harm that these discarded masks pose to the environment has been demonstrated with dramatic effect in a pouf made almost completely out of this personal protective equipment.

Designer: Tobia Zambotti

Surgical masks look simple enough that most probably take for granted the materials used to make them. Most probably presume that they’re made from biodegradable material since they feel like cloth or paper, but that’s not exactly true. They are made from a certain kind of plastic, and they can’t be recycled because of their use in medical scenarios. Thus, they become dangerous pollutants, whether they’re burned by incinerators or thrown into the waters.

Given the volume of single-use masks produced and discarded on a regular basis, that can easily cause an environmental problem. What makes the situation worse is that very few people are aware of this situation, let alone of the harmful potential of these masks. What better way to call their attention, then, than by putting this number into perspective in a rather shocking manner?

See also  These eight conceptual chairs represent Hong Kong’s urban landscape and density

That is what COUCH-19 does in a way that is both meaningful but also useful. Hundreds of used masks are collected and then sanitized using ozone before they’re entombed in a pouf made from recyclable crystal PVC. Each pouf is modular so that it can be combined with others to form a couch to one’s specifications. The poufs are shaped irregularly to give the semblance of the masks frozen in time. The iceberg-like design is intended to be a reference to global warming.

As a couch, the COUCH-19 looks both interesting but also a bit unsettling, 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 give our brains pause, forcing us to face the reality that those masks convey, that of a world where we might be forced to live with the very trash that we so mindlessly throw away.