The Chair That Might Solve The Ocean’s Biggest Pollution Crisis

Oprah has deemed it “the most shocking thing” she has ever seen. Scientists have estimated it to be twice as big as the entire state of Texas. Indeed, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is today’s biggest threat to our ocean life (and beaches) with confetti-sized pieces of trash outweighing plankton 6 to 1. Even worse? 90% of it is plastic.  So how can a single chair slew the Goliath that is the the world’s largest landfill?

Enter three artists, a sluicing machine and a trawler boat. Designed to produce three-legged chairs solely out of sea waste, the Sea Chair Project not only draws awareness to the crisis, but actually offers a solution – surprisingly, to two entirely separate issues. By encouraging struggling fisherman to trawl for plastic rather than fish, the Sea Chair Project (a) provides landfill-mining work for the suffering fishing industry and (b) removes a percentage of plastic from our oceans. And by partnering with a fisherman to produce a “floating factory” out of his retired boat, the plastics can be collected, sorted, molded, manufactured and shipped – all while floating along the ocean’s shore from a single boat. Here’s how:

A plastic-panning contraption called the Nurdler (named from micro-plastic pieces called nurdles) first sorts through the collected pollutants using a hand-powered water pump, organizing the waste by size. Any organic material collected is then compressed into small briquettes to be burned and used as fuel to melt the plastic for chair-molding. With a combination furnace and hydraulic press, each fishing boat serves as a factory for the entire production process – from start to finish. Even shipping is included. Says artist Kieren Jones in an interview with Icon Magazine, “Because the plastic would be treated in the same way as buoys, the chairs could be latched with a piece of rope and thrown overboard, floating in the water until required.”

The artists’ first test chair was successful, creating a one-of-a-kind stool out of plastic pellets from southwest England’s Porthtowan Beach. Displayed at Milan’s furniture fair, the stool was tagged with a unique alternative to its “Made in England” counterparts. Instead, each stool carries a tag illustrating the geographical coordinates of the location where the plastic was first collected, a subtle nod to the project’s international cause.

It’s a cause that has been met with support from artists around the world. Artist Chris Jordan is photographing dozens of deceased albatrosses, exposing the sickening amount of ingested plastics in their open bellies. Sculptor Maarten Vanden Eynde created a shocking coral reef installation made up from our ocean’s floating landfill. Dutch architect Ramon Knoester envisioned Recycled Island, a floating society powered by solar and wave energy, constructed from the Pacific Ocean’s collective plastic. Even corporations like Method and Electrolux are joining the movement for cleaner oceans. Still, can the crisis truly be solved without fixing the source of the problem?

Capt. Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (noted for first discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) doesn’t think so. In a TED talk illustrating how we consumers are responsible for our plastic sea, he says, “This is the legacy we are leaving to future generations. The throwaway society cannot be contained; it has gone global. We simply cannot store and maintain or recycle all our stuff. We have to throw it away. Now the market can do a lot for us, but it can’t fix the natural system in the ocean we’ve broken. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never gather up all the plastic and put the ocean back together again.”

Still, there is hope. Because although The Sea Chair Project and the collective efforts from artists, organizations and corporations may produce little more than a drop in the proverbial ocean, at least that drop is plastic-free.

Image Credits: The Sea Chair Project

p.s. Just for fun: Alejandro Duran’s photographs colorful trash that has washed ashore in Mexico, and Portia Munson photographs mounds of pink plastic.

  • I’ve had Design for Mankind on my Google Reader for about a year, and I’m finally enjoying the (written) content. I really appreciate the new direction that you are going in, Erin. I’m glad I waited, I knew you would eventually include articles as creative/inspiring/informative as the links and pictures you previously provided.

    • Gosh, thank you for the feedback, guys!! I’m so happy you’re loving this. It’s a treat to be able to spend my days learning about things that truly matter. :)

  • This is so inspiring – I love learning about such creative solutions to problems that seem “too big.” Makes me hopeful, thanks for sharing.

  • Love this new direction as well, Erin! You listened to your gut and your heart and made a brave and wise choice. Excellent article. You’re one smart cookie. :)

    • @Madam – thank you SO much for your praise re: the new direction! It was risky, but I’m loving it, too. :)

  • Clearly everybody beat me to it but I also wanted to say that I’m enjoying these longer posts. I used to love your blog cause it was an image and a line. That’s it.

    I’m a graphic designer and rarely read posts, however so far I have been super into your posts and am actually taking the time to read them instead of just looking at the photos.

    Thanks for doing this and being awesome in a whole new way!

  • This is wonderful! So great to see people so intelligently addressing this problem and making inroads towards a solution! I love it! Very inspiring.

  • I love this project! i think it-s so great that this worry for our ocean is spreading in such an awesome way :) it-s great that it is not only helping the planet but it-s also creating art and helping fishermen! I also loved the idea of selling the chairs with the exact coordinates of where the plastic was. Thanks for sharing!

  • Que artículo tan interesante! Las sillas ya se estan vendiendo en alguna parte? Cada nueva idea, trae consigo otras que se van desarrollando y evolucionando hacia caminos diferentes.

    • @Jodie – I think for now we have to be patient; they’re still sharing it at trade shows from what I understand! Fingers crossed for a larger production. :)

  • This is The Movement to be a part of; Plastic Pollution is contaminating our entire planet and our most pressing issue. Hooray for Artists who can see clean oceans, for Seven Generation to come, we thank you !

  • I thought it might be possible to organize “eco-cruises” letting passengers net floating debris and, as a reward, receive a “medal” made of the compressed plastic. The medals would become very sought-after badges of honor. I, for one would be up for it!

  • How about kickstarter or some other type of fund raising effort for the boat captains that might be willing to do this on a grand scale? I had envisioned several huge ships, similar to a fish factory russian type ship, sitting next to the Great Garbage patch and bundling the plastics. I was thinking of Kickstarter type project and then I ran into your wonderful efforts. Couldn’t both be done.. smaller boats closer to coastal areas where they could end up with a guaranteed source of sale/revenue? Thanks for your efforts and this great article.

  • Hi
    Great idea!
    I have been checking out the internet but cannot find a place to purchase this.
    Is it possible to buy this chair (I am living in Belgium). What is the purchase price?
    Tx for your feedback!

Comments are closed.