Jul 25 2019

Alternative furniture design made from plastic waste

Plastic waste is polluting lakes, rivers, canals and seas across the globe. To help tackle the problem of plastic soup, Dutch organisation Plastic Whale and Dutch furniture manufacturer Vepa have launched Plastic Whale by Vepa – high-end office furniture made from plastic waste from the canals of Amsterdam. The collection is formed of a boardroom table, a chair, lamps and acoustic wall panels.

Turning plastic waste into something useful

Marius Smit, the founder of Plastic Whale, came up with the idea of turning plastic waste into something useful while he was on holiday with his family. He came across huge quantities of plastic debris on the beach. He thought about what could be created from the waste: a boat, for instance.

So without further ado, Smit founded Plastic Whale. A few months later, he got together with friends to fish his first plastic bottles out of Amsterdam’s canals to make his first “plastic boat”. Years after that family holiday, the organisation now collects several hundred PET bottles each day in its twelve “rubbish boats” with the help of tourists and Amsterdam residents.

More than 46,000 plastic bottles were fished out of the waters in 2018 thanks to their collective actions. “Our mission is to create economic value from plastic waste and to involve as many people as possible in the process,” explains Smit. And that’s exactly what he does.

Smit’s team has expanded so much in recent years that his dining table is no longer big enough for meetings. Smit made a virtue of necessity: “We thought that, if you can make boats out of waste, then you must also be able to make a table from it.” And so the idea for the first furniture collection was conceived.

Plastic Whale by Vepa – 100% sustainable

The organisation joined forces with Dutch furniture company Vepa to develop the first sustainable, recycled furniture collection. They named it Plastic Whale by Vepa.

The collection takes its inspiration from the whale. “Plastic soup is a huge threat to these extraordinary mammals, so we have integrated characteristic elements of the whale into the collection’s design,” explains Yvonne Laurijsen, co-proprietor of LAMA Concept, the studio that gave the collection its striking look. 

To make a boardroom table, the company needs around 1,004 0.5-litre PET bottles with an average weight of 25 grams. The table itself is made from layers of recycled PET felt, recycled PET foam and FSC birch wood.

Another item in the debut collection is a chair produced from around 67 PET bottles. The cast iron frame is made from steel waste from Vepa’s own factory, while the back is manufactured from pressed felt from PET bottles, and the cushioning is made from recycled tailoring waste and cutting dust. 

A step ahead

Vepa, a pioneer in sustainable innovation, oversees the technical development and production of the furniture collection. “To guarantee sustainability, we made a conscious decision to have full control over production and to keep it in the Netherlands, which is unique,” explains Janwillem de Kam, Managing Director of Vepa.

“What’s more, our deposit-refund system is designed to ensure that no new waste is created: at the end of a product’s life cycle, we collect it from the consumer, who receives a refund of the surcharge charged on the purchase. We then dismantle the furniture so that the individual parts can be reused or recycled.”

Plastic Whale by Vepa presented three new products at the Design District trade event in Rotterdam: two lamps and an acoustic wall panel, known as a whale panel. The lamps are shaped in the form of the barnacles that live on a whale’s skin. They are manufactured from pressed, recycled PET felt. Using LED bulbs minimises energy consumption. The acoustic panels, whose flowing lines are subtly reminiscent of the pleats on a whale’s throat, are also made from pressed, recycled PET felt. 

Part of the profits from sales of the furniture collection is invested, via the Plastic Whale Foundation, in local projects that are tackling the problem of plastic soup where action is needed most urgently. A first collaboration has been agreed with SweepSmart, a provider of professional waste management solutions in India.

“This plastic can no longer be described as waste because it has economic value. By recycling PET bottles into office furniture and finding like-minded customers to buy it, we can make a collective global contribution,” says Smit with pride. 

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