By Ben Schiller
Micro-plastic particles--or "mermaid's tears"--are a major component of marine pollution. Millions of these nurdles (that's the technical term for the pellets used in plastics production) enter waterways ever year, where they combine with products ground down by waves and sunlight. The result is a sort of insidious "soup" that's hard to see with the naked eye, but is persistent and hard to remedy.
The Sea Chair Project is an art project that draws attention to the problem, but also is a possible idea for doing something about it. Three young artists from Britain have created a machine that mines the fine-ground residue, and turns it into three-legged chairs. Each has its stamp of authenticity and is unique to its surroundings. Some are dark black (from oil waste); others white, red, or flecked with green and blue. All are elegant, in a macabre way.
Kieren Jones, one of the artists, says the project started with a trip to one of Britain's most polluted beaches. "It was a nice day, but we were a bit disappointed at first, because there was no clear indication of waste," he says. "It was only when we got a bucket of water that we noticed some of the sand floated. The plastic broke down so much, it was just the size of sand, and we were amazed by how much there was."
The artists repurposed an old sluicing machine that locals used to use for tin-panning. It separates out the plastic and wood, which the team then dries and presses into new shapes. Jones says the whole contraption can be put on a trawler-boat, so that mining, separating, and chair-making can be done while in the water.
The artists have teamed up with an octogenerian fisherman, who says fishing is no longer worth his time. "He says he bought his boat years and years ago, and did an apprenticeship with his father and grandfather, and now it's worthless because nobody is entering the industry. So, we've turned his boat into a mobile plastics factory."
"It's about proving the garbage patch is an opportunity," he says. "We think there is an amazing opportunity for fishermen to trawl for plastics."
Copyright 2012 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.