• 08.02.12

A Stool Made From Floating Trash, Skimmed Off The Ocean

Studio Swine collects plastic pellets from the polluted shores of Porthtowan and, in a closed-loop system, turns them into seating.

Nurdles may sound like the title of the next Disney movie or a new line of cuddly toys, but in reality they’re one of the implacable substances killing a million sea creatures every year. So what are they? Tiny plastic pellets that manufacturers use to make any number of products. Once dumped into the ocean, fish, turtles, and other wildlife ingest them, mistaken for edible morsels. And since they don’t biodegrade, nurdles remain in their systems and are passed along the food chain. A couple of designers have taken it upon themselves to rid their local beach of some of this noxious waste, by collecting it and turning it into furniture.


The first piece in Studio Swine’s collection is the Sea chair, compiled from plastic harvested from the polluted beach of Porthtowan and with the help of Kieran Jones. Swine’s Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves collect and sort the marine debris using a low-tech contraption they’ve dubbed the Nurdler, consisting of a hand-powered water pump, a sieve that separates the nodules by size, and a floatation tank that segregates them by density. All the mechanical parts are sourced from salvage yards and repurposed for harvesting plastic.

After sorting the debris, the team is left with organic material such as seaweed and wood, which they press into briquettes to use as biofuel for melting the nurdles, which are then set into aluminum molds, resulting in a rustic-looking stool with marbled patterning. Each piece in the series is tagged with geographical coordinates and a production number, though the critical number–marine lives saved–is impossible to quantify.

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.