The level of plastic pollution in our oceans is increasing at an alarming rate -- by some conservative estimates, the world puts out 8 million metric tons of plastic waste into the oceans, per year. This is a mind-boggling amount of plastic that's clogging up marine ecosystems and ending up into the food chain, and no one is totally sure of how to clean it up, short of deploying some mile-long ocean cleanup array.
Designers, for their part, could consider using this plastic 'waste' as a material for new products. And these new products can look quite elegant, as Australian-born, London-based industrial designer Brodie Neill demonstrates with this table that transforms plastic bits from the sea into something akin to terrazzo, a composite material for covering walls and floors, traditionally consisting of bits of marble, granite or quartz in a binder.
According to Co.Design, Neill collaborated with environmentalists to harvest plastic waste along the coast. This raw material was sterilized, sorted, and broken down into smaller pieces. Resin was used to bind these bits together, at a ratio of 70 percent plastic and 30 percent resin.
This beautiful material, which Neill is calling "ocean terrazzo", was then milled by CNC machine into tiles that were placed in a parametric pattern. The shape and the design is based on antique specimen tables, which were inlaid with exotic stones and were all the rage during the nineteenth century, says Neill:
The Specimen table in its time held a grand stature, it was a centerpiece in its environment and focal point of discussion. It reflected the pioneering and adventurous spirit of its owner, their mastering of previously uncharted territories, and returning home with an atlas of precious materials.
Here, the "precious material" is plastic, suggesting that one way to deal with plastic 'waste' is to perhaps find ways to rethink its essence, to go into previously uncharted territory: is this plastic truly waste or can it be transformed into something else useful? While a few tables here and there made of recycled ocean plastic won't make a dent in our plastic problem, imagine if hordes of designers and companies were inspired to go out to harvest plastic from the sea, with an eye to making many new and practical things with it. It would, at least, be a start. Neill's "Gyro Table" is currently being exhibited as part of the London Design Biennale; for more, visit Brodie Neill.