Amsterdam is a pretty green city. In the past, it has created 3D-printed benches out of recycled plastic, turned a former prison into a sustainable community, and the city is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 90 percent by 2050. Despite these efforts—and its distinction as one of the most sustainable cities in Europe—the idyllic canal that runs through its center is still a site for discarded plastic bottles and other plastic refuse to collect, creating what Dutch organizations Plastic Whale and Vepa call the "plastic soup problem." To combat this, the two organizations have banded together to create Plastic Whale Circular Furniture—high-end office furniture made from Amsterdam canal plastic.
The first step is gathering the plastic. Together with thousands of Amsterdam residents, Plastic Whale—the first professional plastic fishing company in the world—scours the canals with boats (which are also made from recycled plastic) and large nets and fishes out thousands of pounds of plastic refuse. Next, Dutch furniture manufacturer and leader in the field of sustainable innovation, Vepa, takes the plastic and turns it into beautifully designed office furniture.
"Our mission is to create economic value from plastic waste, involving as many people as possible," said Marius Smit, founder of Plastic Whale. “With office furniture we can make an even greater impact, as many companies want to make a positive contribution to a cleaner environment."
The debut collection consists of a boardroom table, a chair, lamps and acoustic wall panels, the designs of which are all inspired by the shape of the whale to further highlight the mission of the project—saving marine wildlife by removing pollutants from waterways. But the company takes the project even further: The line of furniture is created following the principles of circular production and design. Besides the recycled Amsterdam Canal plastic, Plastic Whale Circular Furniture also makes use of other ‘waste streams’ at Vepa’s factory, including recycled steel for the chairs and residual fabrics for the chair’s cushioning.
"We are rapidly becoming a waste-free factory and even process the waste of others in this collection as well," said Janwillem de Kam, Vepa’s Managing Director. "To ensure sustainability, we maintain full control over the production and consciously keep it within the Netherlands, which is quite unique."
Additionally, the company has implemented a "deposit-return scheme," which ensures that no new waste is created. At the end of a product’s life cycle, the company will collect it from the consumer, who will then receive a refund of the product’s surcharge. The product will then be disassembled and the individual parts will be reused or recycled.
Part of the proceeds from Plastic Whale Circular Furniture will also be invested in local projects that tackle the plastic problem in places where it’s needed the most. The first collaboration is with SweepSmart, an organization that offers professional waste solutions in India, where the plastic problem is rampant.
“Thanks to Plastic Whale Circular Furniture, it will be possible for SweepSmart to develop waste-processing centers in India, and subsequently reuse the collected plastic for the next furniture line," Smit said.
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