The Sea Chair Project by Studio Swine and Kieren Jones

Published on November 25, 2012

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean. More of a ‘plastic soup’ than a tangible mass the gyre stretches from the coastlines of California to the shores of Japan and extends over an area twice the size of the United States. Much of this marine debris is made up of small pieces of plastic, broken down by the ocean’s currents – these small pieces of plastic are known as ‘nurdles’. Nurdles are around 4mm in diameter and represent an estimated 10% of all marine litter worldwide, their small size means they aren’t picked up by waste systems or beach cleaning tractors and being buoyant they float on the sea’s surface taking over a thousand years to biodegrade. Not only are these nurdles littering almost every shoreline in the world but they also act as a sponge for harmful chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in concentrations up to a million times greater than the surrounding seawater.  Resembling fish eggs they enter the food chain raising the toxicity of our fish and slowing but surely causing hormonal changes in humans as a result. As our society’s consumption grows, the concentration of this plastic soup is increasing and with it the urgency to address this issue.  Sea plastic is not a problem that is confined to far off shores but is one that is very much present in the UK.  A high concentration of plastic debris can be found across our shores, with Porthtowan in Cornwall being identified as the most polluted beach in our country for micro plastic.

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Micro plastic or ‘nurdles’ as they are technically known are pellet like pieces of plastic that enter the sea through spillage and poor storage in factories; they have not yet been injection molded and are therefore perfect for production. Nurdles are around 4mm in diametre and are often referred to as Mermaids’ Tears. The United Nations states 13,000 nurdles are floating every square mile of the ocean – this is an average figure and the concentration of nurdles worldwide varies greatly. A beach such as Porthtowan will collect far larger quantities for example.

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Sea Chair proposes to revive the struggling fishing industry by turning fishing boats of varying sizes into floating Chair factories.  By adapting boats fishermen around the world would be encouraged to trawl for plastic rather than fish in order to produce chairs made from the waste they collect.

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The connection between chairs and Seamen originates with sailors requiring carpentry skills for repairing wooden ships at sea; upon retiring many would continue to make wooden furniture in Britain’s port towns. We envisage rather than fisherman making wooden furniture at sea they wood collect and mould marine plastic into chairs. During the early part of the century, Britain’s coastline was a flourish of industrial activity, and beaches like Porthtowan were not just trawled for fish but also mined for precious metals such as gold and tin.

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Much like the early miners, they have taken inspiration from this rich heritage and produced a sluice-like contraption that has allowed us to sort vast quantities of marine debris quickly and efficiently. The Nurdler consists of a hand powered water pump and a sluice that sorts the micro plastic from the stradline grading the particulates by size and using a floatation tank to separate materials by density, allowing them to separate the elusive plastic fragments to be recycled.

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The Sea Press is a furnace and hydraulic press that fits on a small fishing vessel for the production of chairs and briquettes at sea.

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The Sea Chair is made entirely from plastic waste collected from the ocean.  The plastic used to create the first Sea Chair originates from the shores of Porthtowan, a beach located on the Southwest Coast that is known to be the most polluted beach in the UK for micro plastic.  The Sea Chair was produced using the Sea Press, a machine that allows plastic to be heated and formed along with simple moulds and tools. The chair is tagged with the geographical coordinates of where its sea plastic was harvested and carries a production number.

Studio Swine, Kieren Jones & The Sea Chair Project

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