High-End Furniture Made from River Garbage
Forward-looking Dutch firms are bringing something of a sea change to corporate furnishings by equipping boardrooms with whale-inspired furniture — chairs and tables made out of plastic plucked from the sea by tourists.
This year, 14 Netherlands-based companies were the first to purchase Plastic Whale’s first collection of Circular Furniture. The set included a 3-foot-long boardroom table inspired by a surfacing whale (with oak wood legs reminiscent of its skeleton), eight chairs channeling the creature’s tail and lamps honoring the barnacles that call its skin home. There’s also an acoustic wall panel with waves that are akin to the pleats on a whale’s throat.
This collection — a joint effort between Plastic Whale, LAMA Concept and Vepa Project Furniture — features surfaces made from wood and mostly waste material. And that waste is pretty special: Each of the 1,000-plus plastic bottles it takes to make a table, the 60–80 for the chairs and the 20 for the lamps has been fished out of Amsterdam’s canals by hundreds of thousands of volunteers.
Which means every Plastic Whale chair a Dutch executive sits on is the result of thousands of tourists who decided plastic-fishing was a better use of their time than eating another weed brownie.
Marius Smit started Plastic Whale in 2011 after seeing reports on the magnitude of waste in the world’s oceans — he decided he could help tackle the situation at home in Amsterdam. Using the organization’s current motto to “stop talking, start doing,” Smit began organizing “fishing trips” through the city’s waterways, where they caught garbage instead of dinner. Visitors spend an afternoon cruising the canals — the boats look a lot different from others on the canals — with a long net in hand, scooping up floating debris. Fun!
Today, plastic-fishing is a popular tourist activity in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam, attracting volunteers from all over the world. Around 6,300 people fished in June 2018 alone, and there’s already been an overall 70 percent participant growth in 2018 compared to 2017. “This year we’re breaking records every week,” says Pauline de Boer, of Plastic Whale’s marketing team.
Until a year ago Plastic Whale had been using the recycled bottles to make the boats for the fishing expeditions. But when the company needed a new lunch table, well, it decided to try its hand at furniture. The next step was designing furniture for other businesses, in particular the Dutch companies that had been longtime fans of its foraging mission. “We noticed there are so many companies who want to contribute, and they all need office furniture,” says de Boer. Naturally, the furniture would be designed after the “biggest mammal of the world” that gave the organization its name, explains de Boer. “This iconic creature makes the perfect analogy brought together with ‘plastic,’ because it’s harmed so serious[ly] by it.”
Right now, at 19,800 euros, the Circular Furniture table and chair set isn’t destined for the average household, in neither product nor price, but Plastic Whale is hoping to change that soon, according to Gertjan de Kam, Vepa’s manager of marketing, design and development.
There’s a growing market for it. Interior Design named furniture pieces from recycled and repurposed materials as one of five big trends of 2018, and several companies showcasing recycled materials made appearances at Milan’s 2018 Furniture Fair.
“Circular Furniture is proof that products made [from] recycled materials can be designer-quality and still [be] made of waste,” says de Kam. And with only 9 percent of the world’s 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste being recycled, collecting it and using it for furniture is putting it to better use.
But ideally, Plastic Whale won’t be around forever. As it says on the company’s Airbnb Experience page, “It is our goal to go ‘out of business’: In our case, overfishing is a positive phenomenon.”