A cassette tape lost on a beach 25 years ago was hauled out of the sea and made playable again by the University of Plymouth for an art exhibition, which amazingly, the original owner of the tape visited.
It is a frightening illustration of the indestructibility of plastic in our oceans, “and the constant threat to the marine environment”, says Professor Richard Thompson, head of the international marine litter research station at the university.
The window at Tottenham Court Road’s iconic homeware store Heal’s in W1 is festooned with fishing nets, and displaying is the super-slim Ocean chair by Mater of Denmark.
This is a revamp of a Fifties model by the renowned design duo Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel, originally in wood and steel, now with flexible slats of recycled marine plastic, for £234. It’s part of a new edit at Heal’s called Recycled, Remade.
“We are showing waste as today’s raw materials crafted into quality designs,” says Hamish Mansbridge, Heal’s chief executive. “We’ve included designs from PET bottles — hence the huge stash in the window — along with recycled glass and textiles, as well as ocean plastic.”
The beautiful Canopy collection, including closed gardens and vases made from recycled glass by LSA International, was developed with the Eden Project for “hydration and propagation”. Prices from £20 to £39.
Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Tony Bosworth, says: “All companies should ditch throwaway plastic and make long-lasting products that can be easily reused or recycled at the end of their life.”
At Heal’s the Ocean outdoor dining collection by Mater of Denmark is made from recycled marine plastic. Chair £234, small table £395, and dining table, £508
‘It must be beautiful as well as ethical’
Heal’s has fabrics and rugs by Danish Ferm Living. “We have a strong design history in Denmark and sustainability is our priority,” says Ferm’s creative director, Trine Andersen. “Our new fabrics and rugs will take back into use around 270,000 plastic bottles a year.”
Danish brands have good recycling track records. Kvadrat is making boards for furniture and construction from textile waste under the brand name Really, and a beautiful upholstery cloth called Re-Wool using scraps from UK yarn spinners.
Lind DNA uses surplus leather from making furniture, bags and shoes, pressed together with natural rubber for tableware, mats and furniture.
Fritz Hansen is using recycled plastic for a curvy new chair in seven colours by Japanese designer Oki Sato, founder/director of the design office Nendo.
Designer/entrepreneur Tricia Guild, currently starring in her own 50-year retrospective at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, has used waste from the fashion industry for low-key super-soft textiles woven in Italy.
She says: “Around 95 per cent of land-filled textiles could be recycled. Here is a huge resource —but the results must be beautiful as well as ethical.” Which her sofa and cushions, also on show at Heal’s, certainly are.
LSA International’s Canopy Collection made from recycled glass includes closed gardens and vases. From £20
From plastic bottles to polyester yarn
The Swedish retail giant Ikea is big on sustainability and the environment, making products from recycled materials.
Spanish fishermen have been helping the company to collect ocean plastic to develop textiles. But it’s not an easy process.
Plastic collected from the ports must be cleaned, sorted, mechanically recycled, then mixed with more recycled PET bottles to make a polyester yarn.
Ikea has joined proselytising NextWave Plastics, a global consortium of brands, scientists and non-governmental organisations collaborating on the use of ocean plastic for manufactured goods (nextwaveplastics.org).
American Humanscale, with a showroom in Clerkenwell, is also a member, producing a Smart Ocean office chair, which embodies almost a kilo of recycled fishing nets. “All manufacturers need to start cleaning up the environment now,” says Jane Abernethy, Humanscale’s chief sustainability officer.
Pioneering film-maker Jo Ruxton is founder and director of the research and educational charity Plastic Oceans UK (plasticoceans.uk).
You can see her revelatory film, A Plastic Ocean, on Netflix. Creating products from plastic waste may make a small difference to ocean pollution, “but the only real solution is to give up our addiction to plastic and its convenience,” insists Ruxton. “That is the only way to prevent it reaching the environment and causing untold damage to wildlife and our own health.”
Nature Squared co-founder Lay Koon Tan has a base at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour
Everything can be reused, from old tobacco leaves to fish skins
Nature Squared works with artisans in the Philippines to reuse discarded materials from all over the world, everything from old tobacco leaves and fish skins dumped by fishing fleets, to eggshells, feathers, seeds and bark thrown away by plantation workers.
In the hands of the finest artisans and craftsmen, the rubbish is turned into remarkably tactile and delicate homeware, tiles and furniture.
With a base at Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, dynamic and passionate Nature Squared co-founder Lay Koon Tan displays some of her company’s beautiful collection of surface choices, from the deep treacly, glossy mahogany of the tobacco leaf to the iridescence of shells.
The brand commissioned London’s Bethan Gray to design luxury furnishings from scallop, capiz and abalone shells enhanced with feathers and jade, which were launched in Milan last year.
Recycling at this level of sophistication should encourage buyers who might otherwise have thought the process was more edgy than luxurious.
Positive steps on the high street
It’s not going to solve the problem but recycling does play some small part in creating a use for ocean waste.
Hitting the high street right now at hardware chain Robert Dyas is the DuraOcean chair, priced £179.99 for two and made from recycled marine debris, with Forest Stewardship Council-certified eucalyptus wooden legs.
“Retailers have to tackle important issues like ocean plastic,” says Robert Dyas buyer Richard Redman. Meanwhile, Amazon is currently selling six “green plastic” armchairs for £52.99.
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