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Trash Into Treasure: 6 Cool Things Made from Sea Plastic

As the problem of marine pollution gets serious, people around the world are turning ocean trash into all sorts of useful objects.
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Photo courtesy of Studio Swine's "Sea Chair".

A recent study released by The Geological Society of America reveals that ocean pollution has already left a permanent mark in the planet’s geological record. The study announced the “appearance of a new ‘stone’ formed through intermingling of melted plastic, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris.”

This substance was found on Kamilo Beach in Hawai’i, an area hit hard by marine debris due to wind and tide patterns. Discoveries like these  clearly prove the gigantic effect single-use plastics (which make up about 90 percent of ocean garbage) have on our planet.

While marine litter can be deadly to animals and catastrophic to the environment when it’s in the ocean, the litter itself is often useful material that can be made into all sorts things. Thankfully, as ocean pollution becomes an increasing threat to our ecosystems, more and more people are exploring ways to harvest it and transform it into a valuable resource.

Below, check out six creative projects that are cleaning up our oceans.

1. Rustic yet elegant “sea chairs”

Sea Chair from Studio Swine on Vimeo.

“Sea Chair” is a short film from Studio Swine that recently placed second in the Cannes Film Festival’s Young Director Awards for 2014. Dutch film director Juriaan Booij documents a group of fishermen in the U.K. as they collect plastic debris that regularly gets caught in their nets to sort it, melt it, and craft it into beautiful molded plastic stools.

The film, which is as elegantly constructed as the stools themselves, explores the role that individuals can have in ocean clean up, especially those living and working in coastal areas.

Want to try your hand at making a sea chair? The project is open sourced, and Studio Swine’s website offers an illustrated manual on how to make your own! (WARNING: This project is for the experienced upcycler and requires melting plastic over a camp stove as well as some carpentry skills.)

2. Fish scale patterned skateboards

Nets to Decks // Net Positiva // Bureo Skateboards from Bureo Skateboards on Vimeo.

Co-founded by friends Ben Kneppers, Dave Stove and Kevin Ahearn, Bureo Skateboards has created the world’s first skateboard deck made entirely out of recycled fishing nets.

Improperly discarded nets are a huge issue when it comes to ocean litter. According to the Marine Mammal Center, fishing nets make up 10 percent of the world’s marine trash and creates an environmental problem called “ghost fishing,” which occurs when fish and other sea life get caught and killed in abandoned nets drifting below the surface.

In an effort to put an end to ghost fishing and clean up the Chilean coastline, the guys behind Bureo created Net Positiva, Chile’s first collection and recycling program for commercial netting. Through Net Positiva, Bureo Skateboards harvests the litter and melts it down into their signature cruiser boards.

You can learn more about Bureo or buy a fishnet skateboard of your very own on their website.

3. Trendy sneakers and jeans

Pharelle Williams is pop music’s happiness guru and the man behind the hat with more than 20,000 followers on Twitter. Now he has added eco-friendly clothing design to his list of accomplishments. Pharelle’s company, Bionic Yarn, uses fiber made from plastic marine litter to create yarn, denim, and other textiles.

Founded in 2010, the company recently announced a multitude of collaborations set to launch this summer. Among them are a line of jeans designed with Dutch designer clothing company G-Star Raw, and a line of sneakers with German sports and street wear company Adidas.

4. Vibrantly colored carpeting

The global carpet manufacturing company Interface has teamed with the Zoological Society of London to create carpet tiles made from recycled fishnets.

The project, called Net-Work, takes its regenerative process one step forward by not only using materials sourced from the polluted waters and coastlines of the Philippines, but also by generating jobs for residents of small fishing villages throughout the Philippines.

Washed up and improperly discarded fishing nets collected and sold to the company bring both an immediate and long-term benefits to Philippino coastal villages, explains Interface. Not only are people paid for the nets they collect, but by cleaning up trash they are working toward a healthier and more lucrative fishing business in the future.

5. Water bottle catamaran

In March 2010, the Plastiki—a sail boat made entirely of plastic bottles and other upcycled plastics—set sail on an 8,000-mile voyage to raise global awareness around the issue of marine plastic pollution. By designing a sturdy and sea-worthy vessel, the boat’s creators hope to highlight the potentially valuable nature of “single use plastics.”

“Plastic is not the enemy,” expedition leader David de Rothschild told National Geographic a few days before Plastiki set sail. “But it’s our understanding of disposal and reuse that’s to blame.”

During their 128-day journey, the Plastiki crew sailed across the Pacific Ocean, intentionally passing by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to observe the part of the Pacific Ocean that has been hardest hit by plastic waste.

6. Meaningful toys and gifts

Kenyan company Ocean Sole is getting lots of attention for transforming washed up garbage on the the country’s beaches into job opportunities by selling toys, gifts, and jewelry made from colorful discarded sandals found across the Kenyan coast.

The company has created more than 100 jobs by paying workers for coastal cleanup as well as paying artisans for product construction. Old discarded shoes, once an eyesore littering the country’s beaches, become adorable seahorse-shaped key chains or colorful sculptures of elephants. Beyond providing a job for coastal Kenyans, Ocean Sole is able to use their crafts to educate their global customer base about ocean pollution.


Liz Pleasant wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Liz is a graduate of the University of Washington's program in Anthropology, and an online editorial intern at YES! Follow her on Twitter @lizpleasant.

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