From rubbish to resource: Monash Bachelor of Design students create furniture out of waste plastic from one of the world’s most polluted rivers

When you do a degree with Monash, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in our research projects and collaborate with industry partners to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges – including the problem of plastic waste.

Plastic pollution is a global problem: every year 19 to 23 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into aquatic ecosystems, polluting lakes, rivers and seas.

Monash design student Anja Johansen with her prototyped design at the Precious Plastic Bandung workshop.

Monash design student Anja Johansen with her prototyped design at the Precious Plastic Bandung workshop.

The problem with plastic


The Citarum River, in the Bandung region of West Java, Indonesia, is recognised as one of the world’s most polluted rivers. Every day 20,000 tonnes of solid waste, including plastics, are discharged into the river. To address this, Monash University’s Citarum Action Research Program (CARP) is working to revitalise the river alongside the Indonesian Government and industry partners.

Dr Jane Holden (Monash) and Dr Melissa Skidmore (CSIRO) standing over the Citarum River with plastic floating below

Dr Jane Holden (Monash) and Dr Melissa Skidmore (CSIRO) standing over the Citarum River with plastic floating below

The Precious Plastic Design Challenge


Monash Bachelor of Design students were invited to participate in the Precious Plastic Design Challenge, as part of CARP and with industry partner Precious Plastic Bandung, Indonesia.

Students were tasked with designing a physical object made using plastic waste suitable for manufacturing by Precious Plastic Bandung. The object needed to be suitable for installation in a public space along the Citarum River to enhance the local area, support eco-tourism and showcase sustainability initiatives. The two winning student designers would get a trip to Indonesia to visit the Precious Plastic Bandung workshop and explore the local surroundings and culture.

The Citarum Current Collection by Anja Johansen

In response to the brief, Anja Johansen, a second-year Bachelor of Design student, created one of the winning designs titled: The Citarum Current Collection.

Her design used plastic waste to create an occasional chair with two different seating heights which can also be used as a table. It’s designed to be easy to assemble with any scrap material used to make other products. Paying homage to the local area, her design includes a pattern inspired by the Kawung motif, one of the most popular batik motifs in Central Java and Yogyakarta, which resembles the kawung fruit, or palm fruit, arranged geometrically.

From design to prototype: the Precious Plastic Design Challenge trip to Indonesia

In February 2024, Anja Johansen travelled to Indonesia with Monash University Lecturer Dr Ilya Fridman and fellow student designer, Tom Skehan.

Tom Skehan’s eye-catching design, the Citarum Cantilever Chair can be used indoors or outdoors, is easy to assemble with screws, glue and a screwdriver or drill and offers comfort due to the indentation in the seat and backrest.

Monash Bachelor of Design student Tom Skehan’s final Citarum Cantilever Chair design

Monash Bachelor of Design student Tom Skehan’s final Citarum Cantilever Chair design

While in Indonesia, they were hosted by Ramdhan Ismanto, Managing Director, Precious Plastic Bandung and learned about Precious Plastic processes, got industry feedback on their designs, and, in Anja’s case, had her design prototyped.

Monash design students Anja Johansen and Tom Skehan with Ramdhan Ismanto, Managing Director, Precious Plastic Bandung, in the workshop working on the final designs.

Anja Johansen said: “It was an incredible experience to travel over and meet Ramdhan, to see their workshop, and to see my design come to life. It was also a great opportunity to explore the local area of Bandung as well as some of the incredible arts institutions in Indonesia. This was a once in a lifetime experience, and my greatest achievement as a designer, so far.”

She continued, “The Precious Plastic Design Challenge also inspired me to become a member of our own Precious Plastic Monash. I am now a General Products member, and I am continuing the work of designing and making furniture out of recycled plastic sheets.”

Tom Skehan said: “I learnt so much from the whole process, especially as I spent over 1,000 hours designing, 3D printing, CNC machining and assembling my full-scale 3D printed version of the chair. I’m excited to continue to work on my fully realised design.”

Find out more about the Bachelor of Design at Monash.

1https://www.unep.org/plastic-pollution