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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
You know when you see some guy inventing a ‘new’ plastic from food fibres or something, and you think: wow, what a great idea! Why don’t we change all plastics for this new innovation?
Well, I have an interesting story to tell you. These ‘old’ plastics are rather old.
In fact, the first plastics were made from all natural materials like egg and blood protein around 1600 years BC. Yep, that’s right – we humans invented biodegradable forms of plastic almost 4000 years ago!
Even during the Industrial Revolution, a material called Parkesine (nitrocellulose) was invented in England, and it’s considered to be the first form of plastic as we know it – but even then, it was made from a natural material – namely, plant fibres – and it could be fully dissolved in alcohol. In Germany around the same time, a plastic made from milk protein casein was developed.
But not soon after, things got more chemical. Bakelite, the first fully synthetic plastic, was made by Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland by using a highly toxic mix of phenol and formaldehyde, and after World War 1, polystyrene was produced by German company BASF, and the very toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) was made commercially available for the first time.
In 1954, expanded polystyrene (used for building insulation, packaging, and cups) was invented by Dow Chemical, and DuPont started selling PET plastics on a grand scale after World War 2, resulting in the widespread use of a cancer that currently plagues our planet: the plastic bottle.
Today, Dow Chemical, BASF and DuPont are directly to blame for their share of the 9 billion metric tons of plastics that have been produced since the 1950’s and which currently choke our oceans, pollute our drinking water and soil, and kill sea creatures and birds.
Awareness is increasing of the apocalyptic future that’s lying ahead of us if we don’t do something about plastic, and several documentaries have reported on the destruction plastic is wreaking on our planet, including A Plastic Whale, A Plastic Ocean and Sir David Attenborough’s TV series Blue Planet, to mention a few.
The issues surrounding plastic are many, but one solution seems to be recycling. A few clothing companies have started making garments from recycled plastic, but we are learning that such clothing leaves dangerous microfibre pollution in our waterways. It seems if we want to recycle plastic in a useful way, it should be in objects that are strong, permanent, and don’t need laundering.
For example, several designers have transformed recycled ocean plastic into useful and beautiful objects, ranging from toys and furniture to car interiors and beyond.
10 Objects Made From Ocean Plastic
Plastic Whale is the first professional plastic ‘rescuing’ company in the world. Their mission is to make the world’s waters plastic-free and create value from plastic waste – which they certainly have done with this high-end furniture, which was made from over 100.000 recycled PET bottles. The concept behind this particular Board table was ‘the whale’, and the mammal’s characteristics were incorporated into the designs, such as the look and feel of the animal’s skin, tail and the impressive skeleton.
Bureo is a partner company with Tin Shed Ventures®, Patagonia’s venture capital fund, which invests in companies that offer solutions to the environmental crisis. They create fun objects from debris that’s contaminating nature, and of these is the Ahi skateboard. Part of Bureo’s “Nets to Decks” program, it’s made from 50 square feet of abandoned fishing nets. We all know how popular cruiser skateboards are in California, and the performance of this one is top-notch: its double kicktail design includes a concave deck and gripping scale pattern. Every time you go for a ride, you’ll know that not only do you have a non-polluting means of transportation on the ground, but the materials that were used to create it are helping the oceans, too.
If you enjoy tossing a frisbee around with friends or your dog, you’ll be happy to know that Bureo has come up with a delightful entertainment tool that serves a noble cause. Their fishnet flyer frisbee is made from discarded fishing nets that are harming the ocean’s ecosystems. Plus there is the artistic touch of Lake Buckley, who illustrated every piece.
What could be better than finding your body-mind balance with yoga, knowing that the mat you’re using is benefitting our seas? This yoga mat is made from recycled neoprene wetsuit waste that would otherwise be tossed into landfills. What I really love about this mat is the fact that once it’s old and tattered, decades down the line, it can still be recycled again. Plus, Neoprene is a closed cell foam, so it won’t accumulate dust and bacteria from yoga studio floors.
It’s the perfect chair for anywhere! Danish design duo Noergaard & Kechayas has created the remarkable Wehlers chair, made from handpicked ocean plastic and sustainable, recycled steel. The durability of this chair is seriously superior, and it’s even been tested and approved by the Danish Institute of Technology.
We do the dishes and wash ourselves daily, so what can be better to cleanse our bodies, cutlery and nature at the same time? This method dish+hand soap comes in a bottle made from recovered ocean plastic that was collected by hand by the brand’s employees. The bottle contains a biodegradable formula with a lemon and rosemary scent that’s pretty lovely!
Acclaimed furniture and interior designer Claire Rendall is a strong environmentalist helping to call attention to the plight of our ocean wildlife and confront the problem of plastic waste. This is why she was called by furniture brand Robert Milder of Van de Sant – namely to create a new range of furniture made from ocean plastic. All pieces are aimed at the eco-yacht market, and each one is chic, contemporary, and numbered – but most importantly, they’re all fully recyclable at the end of their use.
As I mentioned earlier, plastic bottles are one of the biggest plagues on our planet right now. Fortunately, Soma has partnered with Parley (a global network committed to protect the oceans) and Starbucks to bring you this reusable BPA-free container. This bottle is made from material equivalent to two plastic bottles, intercepted from remote islands and coastal communities. It comes with a bamboo cap, is light, durable and shatter-resistant – the perfect water container to take with you every day, instead of buying new plastics.
9. Gyro Table
Brodie Neill is a renowned eco-designer who has created several objects that make a statement on sustainability. One of his most exquisite pieces is the ocean terrazzo Gyro Table, made from tiny pieces of plastic that have been salvaged from beaches around the world, including Tasmania, Hawaii and Cornwall. It was presented at the London Design Biennale 2016 as the entry for Australia, and two years later, it’s still one of his most beautiful and popular creations, tributing the works of oceanographers and climate scientists. As Brodie Neill explains: “I saw marine plastic as a commodity, not waste. In this way I hope to, in the words of Dr Erik van Sebille, ‘return plastic to the economy and free it from the environment’.”
Recently, Volvo announced that from 2025, at least 25% of plastics used in its new cars will be made from recycled materials, including ocean plastic, bottles, fashion debris and used car seats. At the Ocean Summit during the Gothenburg Volvo Ocean Race stopover, the company revealed a specially built version of its XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV that has had several of its plastic components replaced with equivalents containing recycled materials. Volvo’s goal is to eradicate single-use plastics across all its premises and events by the end of 2019.