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Sea Chair Project harvests plastic from the oceans to create furniture

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August 20, 2012

Collecting plastic nurdles with the 'Nurdler'

Collecting plastic nurdles with the 'Nurdler'

Image Gallery (13 images)

You may have heard about the huge floating islands of garbage swirling around in the middle of the Earth's oceans. Much of that waterlogged rubbish is made up of plastic and, like Electrolux with its concept vacuum cleaners, U.K.-based Studio Swine and Kieren Jones are looking to put that waste to good use. As part of an ambitious project, they’ve come up with a system to collect plastic debris and convert it into furniture.

The Sea Chair project hopes to create a win-win for the marine ecosystem and a fishing industry in crisis. Rather than collecting plastic that washes ashore or is snagged as by-catch in fishing nets, the team hopes to one day go where the trash is, collect and convert it to something useful while still at sea. Sea Chair envisions adapting fishing boats into floating chair factories that trawl for plastic and put it into production on-board.

Fishing vessels could be adapted to trawl for plastic
Fishing vessels could be adapted to trawl for plastic

Taking the notion of retro-fitting entire industries in its own image to an even more radical level, they also describe a future in which dormant oil rigs in the middle of the oceans are put to use for harvesting reserves of plastic trash that will eventually sink to the bottom of the sea.

While many of the Sea Chair project's grand ambitions for the fishing and petroleum industries still remain far off, it has managed some more humble innovations to collect and convert waste plastic into furniture.

The team created a contraption it dubbed the "Nurdler" to sort through tons of beached marine debris in search of pieces of micro-plastic called nurdles. Nurdles are pellet-like pieces of plastic about 4 mm (0.15 in) in diameter that wash into the sea from industrial facilities. According to the Sea Chair website, nurdles have not yet been injection-molded, making them ideal for production. The Nurdler is a bit like the Sea Chair project's equivalent of panning for gold.

Plastic provides a colorful palette
Plastic provides a colorful palette

The team also created a combination furnace and hydraulic press which can fit on a small fishing vessel to create chairs from collected nurdles and other plastics while still at sea – or wherever. The press can also be used to compress collected seaweed by-catch into briquettes that can then be burned to fuel the furnace for chair production.

The result of all this so far has been a pretty simple three-legged stool made up entirely of melted-down and re-purposed sea plastic. Each chair created is tagged with the geographical coordinates of the location where the plastic it is made of was collected.

Finished Sea Chair
Finished Sea Chair

The first sea chairs popped up at the Furniture Fair in Milan earlier this year, but no information on future availability or pricing have been made public just yet.

Source: Studio Swine

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
12 Comments

The US government might consider moving some of our defense industry money into helping design and make these types of vessels-we have enough subs-make useful things that defend us from things like waste and make our defense of fouled water, air and toxins equally as important while keeping those people working.

ZekeG
21st August, 2012 @ 06:44 am PDT

We need to think bigger! How about building houses with recycled plastic since it never breaks down. Here is a great resource, http://www.contourcrafting.org/ I'm sure there would be some way to seal the walls to avoid off-gassing, just don't use drywall from China!

ghpacific
21st August, 2012 @ 09:27 am PDT

This is 'brilliant', as the Brits would say. I live upstream on a tidal estuary, so not as big a problem as the 'plastic' gyres, but still I have to clean up stuff and do. K

K
21st August, 2012 @ 09:45 am PDT

ZekeG, i quite agree

ghpacific, why dont you do it? it seems simple enough:)

This process could be used for many things, ecofriendly and affordable!

Mr. E... vans
21st August, 2012 @ 01:57 pm PDT

Gentlemen and Ladies of GIZMAG. I am delighted to see this "post" about turning trash into furniture. Last week we started the page for what is called The Green Arks Project. It stems from exactly the same issue, the Great Plastic Reef, and what to do about it. Please see The Green Arks Project page to note the incredible similarities, especially "to trawl" the oceans for plastic and turn the trash to "gold". This is the link for the new page: http://www.facebook.com/TheGreenArksProject

The bread crumb trail for this trash issue led to the discovery by Capt Charles Moore ( link :

) that trash from the USA gets caught in the Pacific gyre and winds up on our shores here in the Philippines, not to mention out own trash.

The Filipinos are inventive and creative people, in The Green Arks Project page you may have already seen the green plastic bottle boat built here by some inventive mind and hands, this is the tip of the "trash-berg"…The Plastiki (http://www.gizmag.com/plastiki-plastic-sailboat-voyage/15643/) sailed 8000 miles on 12000 recycled plastic bottles that made up the hulls of this ocean going "green" catamaran. When these elements all came together, The Green Arks Project was born.

To read this article gives us great hope that there are like minded Projects that could combine and join forces, the more the better, for we all have a lot to do, as fast as possible. I hope you have a chance to peruse the page of ideas, and I look forward to hear from you about how we might get in touch with this company you shared about so we can see about joining forces on this really malevolent issue of trash and plastic. Many thanks in advance for your reply. Great Gizmag, GREAT. Thank you.

Christopher Paris Lacson
21st August, 2012 @ 03:27 pm PDT

If I had the resources to mine plastic from the ocean I would go to the next step of returning it to the oil from which it came. The technology is already available to do this and compact enough to place on a ship to process the plastic as it is dredged from the water. Gather the "oil" in tanks and off-load it on shore. Initial development cost would be high but the return from "free" source material would also be high. Anyone with the money want to join me?

Neil Larkins
21st August, 2012 @ 05:19 pm PDT

Why not gather the plastic from inland water sheds before they get to the ocean???? Getting it from point C is a lot easier and cheaper then getting it from Point R. Anything you pull from the ocean will be replaced and then some.

Michael Mantion
21st August, 2012 @ 07:11 pm PDT

Many environmentalists have referred to the vast " floating islands of plastic" that have formed out in the Pacific. Thousands of ships criss cross the oceans of the world and yet nobody with even a cell phone camera has photographed these islands. Even satellites that have the ability to image people on city streets have been unable to find these floating dumps. I have seen plastic garbage tossed up on Caribbean islands after a storm but no vast "floating islands of plastic" Before you announce a plan to produce products in quantity, you need to be assured of your source of supply.

Grumpyrelic
22nd August, 2012 @ 06:28 am PDT

Grumpyrelic, I can't believe that you could deny the incredible plastic pollution in the oceans just because they are not visible on the surface as 'islands'. Out of sight, out of mind is exactly why we get away with affecting the planet in the negative way we do. Also, as long as we are scared of inconvenience, we will never run out of supply of plastic trash.

Mr. E..vans, I have explored building some products, such as retaining wall blocks with plastics and contacted some who are building benches and railroad ties, but the costs of setting up are incredibly high. Simple needs to be spelled $imple in this case. Unfortunately.

ghpacific
22nd August, 2012 @ 09:54 am PDT

ghpacific, these Texas size islands of plastic are a myth. A University of Oregon researcher decided to go find this "island of plastic" by actually dragging nets through the place it is supposed to be and found only very tiny amounts of trash after dragging for many miles. Just one more extreme exaggeration from the environmentalists to make us believe we are destroying our world and get government funding to clean up something that doesn't exist. We have things we need to clean up but this isn't one of them.

maak
22nd August, 2012 @ 10:07 pm PDT

ZekeG:

It's not very feasible to pick up the microscopic plastic particles once they are mixed with the ocean anyway.

It would be better if you people learned to recycle and if people consumed less plastic so the stuff never entered the environment to begin with.

Hagge Aliquis
23rd August, 2012 @ 01:55 am PDT

Grumpyrelic: I agree environmental scares exists but based on what I've read, I believe the garbage patches in the ocean are real. When plastic is in the ocean, the sun and salt and wave action breaks the plastic down to tiny particles. So no, there aren't islands but there are areas in the ocean where the concentrations are much more dense than others. The problem is, even at a microscopic level, these plastic particles never goes away. It just accumulates and gets ingested into sea life, which we consume. If you have a reputable source that disputes the measurements, I'm open to review. And to your point, sometimes the cure can also cause harm. I understand one of the problem of "mining" the plastic is whether collecting microscopic plastic will hurt the beneficial microscopic "stuff" in the ocean. So I believe it is a problem, should be addressed, but with caution.

James Poch
27th August, 2012 @ 06:39 am PDT
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