By Jody McCutcheon
Like car crashes, the various oceans’ garbage gyres are disgusting and horrible, yet somehow fascinating, possessed of head-turning power. Basically these gyres are huge swaths of ocean filled with plastic refuse—bottles, bags, stuff—that has ridden converging currents into a massive vortex. The garbage patches exist for two main reasons: our pathological reliance on plastic and our apparent aversion to proper disposal of it. So it’s apropos that we endeavor to do something about it.
Specifically, a pair of London designers, Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami—better known by their professional moniker, Studio Swine—has created a method of making unique furniture using a portable plastic extruder called the Nurdler, a 3D printer and solar power—in other words, using good old-fashioned human ingenuity.
The process began on the shores of Cornwall, UK, when Groves and Murakami melted plastic bits salvaged from the beach and fashioned them into what they call Sea Chairs. Since then, they’ve taken to the ocean in fishing boats and collected enough plastic to make many more such chairs, complete with tags indicating the geographical coordinates where it was made.
A successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this fall allowed Groves and Murakami to sail in a 72ft plastic-research vessel, the Sea Dragon, to the North Atlantic Garbage Gyre, where they used a fishing net to collect all the plastic refuse they could find. That’s a lot of raw materials from which to build furniture. That’s a lot of furniture. And by collecting all that plastic, they’re certainly tidying up the place, at least somewhat.
The Sea Chair Project received the gold award at the 2013 Design Biennale Slovenia, and a film of the project won second prize at Cannes. The Studio Swine website offers an intriguing mix of fascinating facts (in the last decade we’ve produced more plastic than in all of the last century) and crass commercialism. The Shop section offers plenty of plastic trinket, or “rewards,” for purchase. As Groves and Murakami say, the more rewards Studio Swine sells, the more plastic they’ll need to extract from the ocean.
Best of all, they’ve open-sourced the plans for the Nurdler and 3D printer in hopes of inspiring others around the world to build and use them to clean plastic from local beaches and waterways. The more people that band together to help clean the oceans, the sooner the job will get done. As always, awareness is half the battle.