The statistics are mind boggling. Each year 300 million tons of plastic is produced world-wide of which 8 million tons ends up in the ocean adding to the current 5.25 trillion pieces of debris. Of that mass 269,000 tons float on the surface with some 4 billion plastic micro fibres per square kilometre littering the deep-sea floor. It should come as no surprise that plastic pollution is so acute that it has entered our food chain with 2/3rds of the worlds fish stock suffering plastic ingestion and 200 “dead zones” in the sea where no life exists. By 2050 the plastic in the worlds oceans will weigh more than the fish. This is even more alarming when you realise it takes 400 to 1,000 years for an average plastic bottle to decompose. Of the plastics that do decompose within a year, they leach toxic chemicals such as Bisphenol A, PCB’s and derivatives of polystyrene into the water. Americans use 500 million single-use plastic straws per day. Globally 500 million plastic bags are used annually. What many don’t realise is that the massive floods in Bangladesh in 1988 and 1998 were made more acute by plastic bags clogging the drains.
So, what’s to be done? Clearly, we need to act fast. As with most things it needs both consumer and governmental pressure. There are some amazing initiatives already out there. Sky News has launched an Ocean Rescue campaign using its important platform to engage and educate. Recently its Sky Rainforest Rescue claimed to have saved 1 billion trees in Brazil, which makes this an important initiative. David Rothschild has sailed across the oceans in “Plastiki” a 60 foot catamaran made from 12,500 plastic bottles to highlight the issue and United by Blue removes a pound of plastic from the environment for every purchase of its products made. Restaurants, particularly in London have started “Straw Wars.” Plastic straws are not handed out unless asked for. Bath please take note. Starbucks offer a 25p discount if you take your own cup. Perhaps even more impressive is the government of Kenya who has introduced the worlds toughest plastic bag law with a £31,000 fine or 4 years in jail for selling or even using a non-degradable plastic bag. In the UK most councils will recycle plastic bottles, but many won’t touch any of the other recyclable plastics, leaving for example, plastic food trays and bags to go into landfill and beyond. Clearly this is not good enough.
Project “Ocean Cleanup” has been launched to create an Oceanscraper with the aim of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Sometimes referred to as “gyres” these massive areas of ocean are where currents converge bringing with them huge amounts of rubbish. A 100m prototype boom has been tested off the coast of the Netherlands. Sweetly named Boomy McBoomface, if successful it will be scaled up to a 100km version and set to work in the pacific.
On the creative side are companies using ocean plastic waste to produce something new. Adidas have joined with “Parley for the Oceans” and created a running shoe made from ocean plastic waste. An international architectural firm called Spark is collecting ocean plastic to make solar powered beach huts in Singapore. Bureo uses 30 square feet of recovered fishing nets (particularly harmful to sea life) to create each of its skateboards and Karun uses Ocean Plastic to make its Kayu range of sunglasses.
Last year I was approached by Robert Milder, owner and founder of Van de Sant, to design a range of luxury, contemporary furniture from Ocean Plastic waste, principally for eco super yachts. Based in Curacao and the Netherlands, Robert’s vision is impressive. The plastic is collected, chipped and compressed to make an extremely hard and versatile board. This forms the structure of the furniture which means it’s suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Using recyclable foam and aluminium, each piece of furniture is made to order and numbered so that at the end of its life, it’s fully recyclable, neatly creating a circular and sustainable economy. Van de Sant is working with Schipol airport near Amsterdam, the United Nations and is about to deliver furniture to the National Geographic “Encounter Ocean Odyssey” in New York. For the next 6 months we’re showcasing Van de Sant furniture at ChaniiB’s in Milsom Place. These pieces will be covered in fabric by Bionic Yarn which is also made from Ocean Plastic making the perfect partnership.
These creative initiatives are important on two fronts. They make use of the plastic that is already littering our oceans and so take it out of the environmental equation. Perhaps more importantly however is that these products highlight the issue and help bring it to a wider audience. Clearly the main issue is that we should stop making single-use plastic. It needs to become as socially unacceptable as smoking in a car with a baby present while texting and driving. It’s sad that it takes the problem to get to such epic proportions for mankind to take action, but we are where we are. So come along to ChaniB’s and see for yourself how an ugly mash of plastic waste can be transformed into something rather lovely. You’ll be sitting pretty.