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Sea Chair Project Harvests Plastic From the Oceans To Create Furniture 96

Posted by samzenpus
from the have-a-seat dept.
cylonlover writes "You may have heard about the huge floating islands of garbage swirling around in the middle of the Earth's oceans. Much of that waterlogged rubbish is made up of plastic and, like Electrolux with its concept vacuum cleaners, U.K.-based Studio Swine and Kieren Jones are looking to put that waste to good use. As part of an ambitious project, they've come up with a system to collect plastic debris and convert it into furniture. Rather than collecting plastic that washes ashore or is snagged as by-catch in fishing nets, the team hopes to one day go where the trash is, collect and convert it to something useful while still at sea. Sea Chair envisions adapting fishing boats into floating chair factories that trawl for plastic and put it into production on-board."
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Sea Chair Project Harvests Plastic From the Oceans To Create Furniture

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  • Great idea. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @11:40PM (#41090463)

    But how much will it cost to harvest the plastic from the ocean rather than creating it from scratch, whether it be from oil or other sources? (I seem to remember that PET can now be produced from corn by-products, not just oil.) I'm tipping that the balance of cost will not be in favour of this idea for a considerable time, no matter how necessary cleaning up our act may be.

    There may be a market for selling these to people who have an environmental conscience, but I would be surprised - albeit very pleased - if it were big enough to sustain a company.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by quantaman (517394)

      Not to mention the fuel emissions from going out and doing the collection, or even the current system of driving around and collecting by-catch, than sorting and processing the material into furniture. Unless it's a lot more feasible than I suspect I have a hunch this project will do more harm than good for the environment.

      • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

        Not to mention the fuel emissions from going out and doing the collection

        There might be a more fuel efficient way to collect those jetsam and floatsam -

        Setting up garbage traps where sea currents flow, and collecting the jetsam / floatsam as they are flowing nearby

        While this method is far from perfect - the set up for such device is a no-brainer

        But there is one very important thing TFA has not mentioned - many of the plastic garbage that end up in the sea do NOT float - they sunk, and end up littering pristine ocean floor, even the Mariana Trench

      • Maybe they could use a great big catamaran, primarily powered by the wind!

    • Re:Great idea. (Score:4, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Thursday August 23, 2012 @03:01AM (#41091507) Homepage

      But how much will it cost to harvest the plastic from the ocean rather than creating it from scratch

      Despite all the hype - there are no 'islands' of plastic garbage, just areas of the ocean with a few extra tenths of a gram of microscopic bits of plastic per cubic meter. This suggests that it will be very expensive indeed to collect and recycle the plastic.

      • by moeinvt (851793)

        "there are no 'islands' of plastic garbage"

        Not 'islands' in the sense that you could walk across them.

        There are however vast areas where you can sail and see dozens of pieces of floating garbage in whichever direction you look.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        just areas of the ocean

        'areas' ? from wikipedia : Estimates of size range from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres.

        few extra tenths of a gram of microscopic bits of plastic per cubic meter.

        that would 'only' amount to tens to hundreds of million of tons.

        very expensive indeed? wasn't it for the FACT that all sorts of bad stuff : POP's, DDT, PAH, PCB ... are now in the food chain. that's BAD.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by aliquis (678370)

      It would be better if the people in US learned to recycle.

      Yeah. Troll. Whatever. Over here in Sweden waaaay more gets recycled than over there.

      • Too many people think recycling is some kind of commie plot over here, first we'll be *forced* to recycle, next we're *forced* to live where we're told, and *forced* to do the job we're told, then *forced* to stab every third neighbor and live on rationing...

        Recycling is seen as somehow work different than just not littering by people here.. Don't know why, the counties that have done away with garbage altogether and gone to just everything being picked up and sent to recycling have seen profits from the
    • by rolfwind (528248)

      It's a mediocre idea. The reason is that these chairs will be floating out in the ocean one day. It's like that one company that does a single run of kitsch products made from used target bags or whatever (for target) like wallets and raincoats and stuff. Cute, but won't make any real dent. Plus the recollection effort itself will burn lots of fuel.

      Years ago, in Germany, I saw a demonstration of a machine that took plastic and made it back into petroleum or a type of diesel fuel, to be more specific. I

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Stuff that floats in the ocean is, presumably, stuff that fell of the ships. Throwing stuff into the water onshore isn't a good way of disposing floating things. Usually they wind up back on the same shore, a few miles to the side.

    • Who cares how much it will cost? Steve Ballmer will be thrilled at the news of an unlimited supply of chairs, and lightweight chairs at that.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      (I seem to remember that PET can now be produced from corn by-products, not just oil.)

      Virtually all corn in the USA is grown by big ag, which grows it continuously and almost exclusively GMO, meaning without crop rotation or fallow time and using metric fuckloads of chemicals bought from Monsanto which have been proven to cause a broad range of ills. There is nothing good about finding new ways to use more corn byproducts. We should be producing less of them. The same is true of milk; we produce vastly more milk than we need due to rBGH, and consequently we have become geniuses of finding ne

  • by Craig Ringer (302899) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @11:41PM (#41090477) Homepage Journal

    In 20 years, we'll be looking for dolphin-safe plastic items, and lamenting the number of seabirds that're killed as by-catch from the oceanic plastics harvesting industry. Concern will be raised about the waste disposal practices of on-board plastics recycling, but nobody will do anything about it because it happens in international waters.

    Sometimes you just can't win.

    • the number of seabirds that're killed as by-catch from the oceanic plastics harvesting industry.

      What by-catch? Once the plastics become too expensive, it will be economical to catch the birds on purpose and slice them open to get to the precious plastics in their stomachs. The ecological plastics manufacturing ships will be ecologically powered by biomass-burning Stirling engines. And the birds' biomass will do just fine.

    • Yeah... I would watch that movie.
  • I see a problem... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by madmarcel (610409) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @11:47PM (#41090509)

    There is an online documentary on the 'floating garbage islands' somewhere. Not really islands. Just lots of little itty bits of plastic spread over a huuuuge area.

    Since the plastic debris is spread thinly over a large large area, you'd need to blow through a fair bit of fuel to collect sufficient amounts of plastic to make a chair.

    Doable? yes.
    Economical? No.

    Unless you could do this with a sailing boat, or a solar powered boat...and from the article...that boat doesn't look like either.

    • by dcrisp (267918) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @11:56PM (#41090571)

      In fact the little pieces of plastic are apparently microscopic pieces of plastic suspended in the entire water column over a vast area of ocean.
      The author, from the documentary above, mentioned that he (she?) travelled to the alleged area to see the plastic and then learnt about the lack of visible suspended solids AND the problem with the local sea life drinking the water and filtering the plastic particles into their own systems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by leftover (210560)

      Even worse, as I have read, the plastic bits are dispersed in a huge volume. Roughly one bit per cubic meter to depths in tens of meters.

      Also, the amounts of plastic debris are not increasing because tiny crustaceans are drilling tunnels into the plastic and feasting on the rich carbs, safe inside their tough little homes.

      • So....there is no problem at all with the plastic?

        • by madmarcel (610409)

          No doubt there is. You have no control over quality, and you'll probably end up scooping up huge amounts of other crap as well...
          As you float in the middle of the ocean, miles from anywhere, what are you going to do with the non-plastic bits? Tip them overboard?

    • by Grayhand (2610049) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @01:33AM (#41091173)
      It depends on the density. I saw samples being taken that had a shocking amount of plastic not counting larger items. A fairly small small net pulled in what looked like a soup of plastic so I can see this as being practical especially if you can get some of the larger polluting nations to contribute to the clean up. The chairs will sell as a premium green item and you're forgetting the cost of plastic stock which takes a huge amount of oil to produce. FYI the ship could be fueled by the plastic. These machines could produce all the diesel they need from the plastic so the cost is mostly in the initial set up. http://www.blest.co.jp/seihin-english.html [blest.co.jp] Something needs to be done because it's seriously affecting sea life. If all you care about is sushi then it would be worth some investment by the affected countries. A dozen ships could make a real dent in the waste. We created the problem and it's time we took some responsibility for the mess.
      • Yes it depends on the density...

        Important: it also depends on the density of life that is disrupted
        by any cleanup. The larger visible bits are not a big problem
        beyond the jelly fish look alike plastic bags that turtles ingest.

        If anyone cared enough a sail assisted ship or two could tow a
        modest mesh screen and fill a barge with bits that could
        be compressed, dewatered and perhaps recycled or sunk
        into the abyss.

        The problem is that such a skimmer would collect 90+% living
        critters to the small percentage of pl

    • Are you perhaps referring to this video by Hank Green?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh6lkv1udb0 [youtube.com]

    • by root_42 (103434)

      After looking at the article, I would say this project is rather to get our attention to the garbage patch problem. Their solution, while maybe infeasible and ecologically unsound, is intriguing at the same time. Point is, there needs to be done something about the great garbage patch, and while the proposed idea might not be the solution, it is at least an idea that deals with the problem. Now let's throw in some more, and solve this thing!

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Solution: Don't let plastic enter the sea (and preferably anything.)

  • Seems like turning diesel spent on this "fishing" into chairs would be both more economical and environmentally friendly. I suspect the real reason to fish plastic is to enjoy sailing in warm waters on someone else's dime.

    • Re:Wasted Fuel (Score:5, Insightful)

      by multiben (1916126) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @11:53PM (#41090549)
      Or maybe you could consider the benefit of removing shitloads of crap from the ocean.
    • You do know that plastics are made from scratch with petroleum, right?
      • by mirix (1649853)

        That's precisely what the GP states... Take the petroleum that would be used for fueling the fishing boats, and just directly turn it into chairs, bypassing the harvesting plastic from the ocean part.

      • by Dunbal (464142) *
        You do know that petroleum won't last forever, right? Yeah you can make plastics from other sources too, but not as cheaply as from oil.
    • Interesting point I hadn't considered. What is the ratio of (land-made product) vs (fueled sea-voyage + manufacturing) per petroleum used? I do know a surprisingly large amount of fuel is required for a fishing voyage, and only more would be required to operate manufacturing machinery in addition. But the ocean is a planetary keystone too; so do we not need to directly confront the pollution that already exists? I wonder if it's even a choice. Perhaps the amount of petroleum used could be less relevant if
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      It would be a neat thing to do with decommissioned nuclear aircraft carriers. Presumably you'd have to maintain a military presence on them, though, so it's the kind of thing a nation would have to do.

  • by Penurious Penguin (2687307) on Wednesday August 22, 2012 @11:58PM (#41090597) Homepage Journal
    Land lubbers needed too: Kamilo Beach [wikipedia.org]?
    It does seem like a fantastic, if not long overdue idea. Count me in if volunteers are needed.
  • Doesn't sound very... Comfy!

  • by Osgeld (1900440) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @12:02AM (#41090631)

    The same crap that cheap lawn chairs of made of, 1 year exposed to the elements and it crumbles into powder ... why do we need million year plastics to hold beer cans?

    • Sadly, much of the problem is the plastic granules, powder and fragments that UV-degraded plastics (like those lawn chairs) break down into.

      Big chunks are a problem, but a huge part of the issue in the great pacific midden [wikipedia.org] is tiny particles and fragments that've been eroded by agitation and broken down by UV until - for many animals - they're indistinguishable from food. They get into little filter feeding critters, they collect in the guts of larger creatures, and they just don't go away.

      Becoming too smal

      • by cffrost (885375)

        Sadly, much of the problem is the plastic granules, powder and fragments that UV-degraded plastics (like those lawn chairs) break down into.

        Big chunks are a problem, but a huge part of the issue in the great pacific midden [wikipedia.org] is tiny particles and fragments that've been eroded by agitation and broken down by UV until - for many animals - they're indistinguishable from food. They get into little filter feeding critters, they collect in the guts of larger creatures, and they just don't go away.

        Becoming too small for us to see and deal with doesn't make that waste go away, it just makes it even harder to deal with.

        In addition to the ongoing ecological damage, there's a possibility that we may come to rely on that plastic, as the value of both it and petroleum increase. The recovery of plastic in the form of microscopic particulates is likely going to be expensive and environmentally disruptive, akin to mining other (not-necessarily-rare) rare-earth materials.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @01:34AM (#41091175) Journal

      The same crap that cheap lawn chairs of made of, 1 year exposed to the elements and it crumbles into powder ... why do we need million year plastics to hold beer cans?

      Plastics are a cocktail of chemicals.
      One of the most important ingredients are UV stabilizers.
      This single ingredient more or less dictates the functional lifespan of any plastic that is exposed to sunlight.
      Once that UV stabilizer is consumed, UV will break down the plastic until its structural integrity fails.

      The industry is working on "biodegradable" plastic, but the term comes with so many asterisks that it's almost meaningless.
      In the short term, petroleum based plastics do not biodegrade, they degrade.
      "Biodegradable" petroleum plastics just degrade faster.

      After that, it's up to the micro-organisms in the environment to break the plastic down.
      And if the plastic is in a non-ideal environment, it'll hang around longer.
      Land fills are especially bad environments for plastics to degrade in.

      /Bioplastics are a while nother story and, while better for the environment, are not a mature technology yet

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Landfills are a great place for storing plastic. A lot of "recycling" has wound up landfilled, but it gets sorted first, which means it'll be relatively cheap and easy to mine it later.

    • ...and why do cheap plastics have to be used in things that are supposed to last? Hell...I have a couple of cheap plastic garbage cans that were given to us...they were purchased at Walmart...which have all but totally disintegrated in a matter of years. They're not recyclable either. I also have an old Rubbermaid plastic garbage can that's been in the same condition for decades. Given that Rubbermaid was put out of business by Walmart's refusal to agree to a necessary price hike, I've always seen those

  • Fuel economy issues aside, how do they plan to find these islands of plastic if they're in the middle of the ocean? A quick peak at Google Earth would suggest that the overwhelming majority of ocean is... well.... water, and it clearly isn't practical to meander around an entire ocean looking for something without a clue as to its location.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The current plan is to track the discarded floatilla of Windows phones along their migratory path toward plastic island

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Fuel economy issues aside, how do they plan to find these islands of plastic if they're in the middle of the ocean?

      Why, that's not hard. They wait for the guys in the first TFS link to finish building their plastic island, then go there and do their chairs from it.

  • by jsse (254124) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @12:04AM (#41090639) Homepage Journal
    After a cargo accident, millions of tiny white plastic pellets have been washing up on the Hong Kong's shores [wsj.com]. No authority, no government cares. Civilians voluntarily organize cleaning up activities every weekend and the situation is still catastrophic. Uncountable fishes have their stomachs stuffed with plastic pellets, but Hong Kong Government still insists that those fishes are harmless and safe to eat. Those fishes are dying of staving because they couldn't take any more real food, and the Government only cares about whether it is safe to eat them.

    Sadly, environmental disasters effect everyone in the same planet but they would hardly raise mass concern.
    • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Thursday August 23, 2012 @02:50AM (#41091461) Homepage Journal

      You say:

      No authority, no government cares.

      But your linked article says:

      By Sunday night, the government said that it has already collected half of the plastic pellets that had been spilled, including 50 tons of pellets in sacks that were scooped up from the water. The government said the clean-up effort is still continuing.

      “This is an ongoing process,” secretary for the environment Wong Kam-sing told reporters on Sunday, pledging to stay attentive as the situation continues to develop.

      In the meantime, environmental groups praised the government for its swift response to the spill,

      • by jsse (254124)
        This is just a political show. You can see from the pictures, those picking up plastics are civilians, not any government official. WSJ is like millions other media wanting to please local governments with mild reporting, but this is the best English source I could find. Local news has much better insight on that.

        The HK Government responded AFTER a month of media coverages and civilians' volunteering activities. When reporters questioned the number collected, the officials immediate revised the number
    • I just had to look it up, and amazingly, it's not a spelling mistake as long as they are different species [yahoo.com]. Probably not intended by the author, but enough to protect him from grand ma's brownshirts.
      • Actually, come to think of it, the word fish behaves much like April First:
        The plural April Firsts is only used if they are in different years...
    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      And what exactly do you suggest the government do? Place buoys with signs on them warning the fish not to eat the plastic?
  • by joocemann (1273720) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @12:16AM (#41090715)

    ...for a couple years.

    The Chinese are very efficient and productive people/nation. I wouldn't be surprised if they are already ahead of the game for this 'free' resource. I will be surprised if the Brits are the first to tap it.

    • If China really saw pollution as a free resource, wouldn't their waterways (and possibly air in / around cities) be a little less polluted?
  • by pcjunky (517872)

    If it were possible to make a profitable business of this that would be a very sad state of affairs.

  • Let's say that all the technical problems are overcome and such a ship heads out and starts making plastic furniture. What kind of irony would result from a rogue wave tipping all the cargo back into the sea?

  • by brillow (917507) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @02:23AM (#41091385)

    Please post more stories about fanciful ideas artists "hope" to do one day.

    Also, post more links to people blogging about the dream they had last night.

    Or something maybe someone thought of when they were stoned.

  • So much time is spent arguing about global warming that we seem to have totally abandoned the non-global-warming-causing pollution issue. Global warming is certainly disastrous, but turning all the water on earth to a poisonous garbage dumb seems more imminently dangerous.
    • by narcc (412956)

      That problem demands real solutions from which tangible results can be seen in a reasonable time-frame. Global warming, well, it's way harder to see if we're making any progress. That makes it much easier to turn a profit feeding in to the hysteria as you don't need to do any actual work.

      Just kidding, of course. Want to buy some carbon offsets? They're totally legit.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday August 23, 2012 @07:54AM (#41092977) Journal

    This may be slightly off-topic, but hey, this is idle so I'm probably improving the quality of discussion, anyhow...

    Why aren't inflatables more popular? A traditional queen size mattress costs at least $200, meanwhile a queen sized air mattress costs $20, or an order of magnitude less expensive. Inflatables aren't perfect, but these days they're quite stable and nearly as comfortable as a regular mattress. What's more, they don't have springs or padding to wear out quickly, as cheaper regular mattresses do.

    I've even seen a little $50 love-seat that was inflatable. Considering being able to eliminate the steel frames, springs, cross-beam supports, and all that polyurethane, it should be easy to make them cheaper, and again be at least an order of magnitude cheaper than conventional sofa, chairs, etc.

      The benefits of super lightweight, incredibly compact when packed away, and incredibly portable, plus cheap and very little material used, seems like a slam-dunk.
    So why don't we see more of this? Whether with recycled sea-plastic, or not. People like to say how incredibly cheap consumers are, yet this seems like an obvious, huge expense saver, that it seems almost nobody takes advantage of. Why not? When did we become furniture snobs?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Inflatables aren't perfect, but these days they're quite stable and nearly as comfortable as a regular mattress

      Not any that I've laid on. I have some, for those times when you need a bunch of mattresses quickly, but I don't sleep on them. I sleep on a big fucking futon about a foot thick, as opposed to one of those janky student futons. I've owned those, too, they're marginally more comfortable than laying on the floor, and much better for those with dust allergies.

      What's more, they don't have springs or padding to wear out quickly,

      Instead being horribly vulnerable to hot or pointy things.

      I've even seen a little $50 love-seat that was inflatable.

      Great, a piece of furniture that seats two with a weight limit of what, 375 pounds? 450 tops? T

      • by evilviper (135110)

        <blockquote>

        Instead being horribly vulnerable to hot or pointy things.

        Pointy... maybe. Hot, not so much. We're talking about melting plastic here, and there's no reason you can't have a nice thick cover sheet/topper to completely fix that imaginary issue.

        Great, a piece of furniture that seats two with a weight limit of what, 375 pounds? 450 tops? That you certainly can't fuck on without an undesired pop...

        Rated at 500lbs, and have you ever heard of a pressure-relief valve?

        Did you have anything to

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Rated at 500lbs, and have you ever heard of a pressure-relief valve?

          I have heard of a pressure-relief valve. A good one is expensive. A shitty one you might as well not even have.

          Did you have anything to contribute to the discussion other than a baseless "nuh uh!"

          Baseless? If inflatable furniture were such a great idea it would already be ubiquitous for all the reasons you state. It's not, because it always dies.

          • by evilviper (135110)

            If inflatable furniture were such a great idea it would already be ubiquitous

            That's some great circular logic you got there... of course the status quo is always imminently rational and based on the best information, and unconstrained by fashion or market forces.

  • There are floating chunks of pumice created by undersea volcanoes. Rather than just making chairs with the floating plastic, someone should combine the plastic and pumice to make entire floating islands. Then put some chairs on them. That would be much more valuable than just the chairs, not to mention floating islands are cool.

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