When you’re on holiday in Amsterdam, you can go for a very peculiar kind of cruise on the city’s famous canals. As you cruise, you fish–for plastic, not bottom-feeders.
These plastic fishing tours are offered by the social enterprise company Plastic Whale, which over the last seven years has transformed the thousands of PET bottles that volunteer fishers have hooked out of Amsterdam’s canals into plastic boats. The more plastic they fish out, the more boats they can build.
Now, the company is setting its sights on an entirely new kind of product: office furniture.
Plastic Whale recently announced a circular furniture collection, composed of a conference room table, chairs, lamps, and acoustic panels that are all made out of PET bottles from Amsterdam’s canals. But you’d never know it–Plastic Whale works with a partner that transforms the bottles into felt and foam panels. Aimed at companies that are interested in being more sustainable, the furniture’s modern design makes it look high-end, despite the lowly place the materials came from. It takes about 1,000 bottles to make a table, and 50 to 60 to make a chair.
The collection, which was designed by the Amsterdam-based studio Lama Concept and produced by the manufacturer Vepa, was inspired by the anatomy of a whale. The table looks almost like a whale coming up for air; the shape of its legs is derived from the giant animal’s vertebrae. The geometric lamps, which come in two sizes, mimic the barnacles that often decorate whales’ sides. The chair is inspired by whale tails, and the design of the acoustic panels comes from the lines that appear when a whale opens its mouth to feed on krill.
While the inspiration is a little on the nose given the company’s name, the designs themselves are effortlessly modern and would complement any office space. The company has made 20 sets of the conference tables and chairs and has sold seven of them to date.
As of December 31, 2017, Plastic Whale has fished out about 105,000 bottles–and two to three times that amount of other kinds of trash. Right now, the company is only using bottles to make boats and furniture, though it’s interested in expanding into other materials in the future. Ten percent of the profits from the furniture goes to the company’s foundation, where it will be invested in local projects in other parts of the world that aim to use a similar economic model to turn plastic waste into something valuable. The resources generated from the furniture will go into more plastic fishing expeditions, which in turn will clean up Amsterdam’s canals while creating more raw materials for the company to create its products.
In a world where designers are increasingly looking to new materials that reuse or recycle materials in a clever way, turning trash into covetable interior design doesn’t just give trash a second chance at life while cleaning up Amsterdam’s canals; it’s also a savvy way to turn the circular economy into a real business.