Some 28 billion pounds of plastic enter the world's oceans every year. But as London-based industrial designer Brodie Neill shows, that waste can be transformed from an environmental malady into elegant furniture. The result? A stunning new material called "ocean terrazzo."
For Plastic Effects, a table exhibited at the London Design Biennale, Neill worked with environmentalists and sustainability experts from around the world to collect plastic that washed up on beaches. Next, they sterilized the haul and sorted it into a color gradient that an artisan then chipped into smaller fragments and set into a resin base to form the ocean terrazzo. The resulting slab is composed of about 70% plastic aggregate and 30% resin. (Traditional terrazzo is typically made from chips of stone set into concrete and polished down.)
After producing slabs of different shades of blue—since the warmer colors like red, orange, and yellow degrade fastest, most of the plastic found fell in the cooler side of the color spectrum—Neill then CNC-milled tiles and arranged them in a parametric pattern based on the longitudinal lines of the planet. "The shape of the tables evokes the idea of a 'round-table,' a place for discussion and debate," he says.
Specimen tables—which sport tessellated inlay patterns made from rare and valuable stones—were quite popular in the 19th century, and Neill based his concept on this type of furniture. "The Specimen table in its time held a grand stature, it was a centerpiece in its environment and focal point of discussion," he says. "It reflected the pioneering and adventurous spirit of its owner, their mastering of previously uncharted territories, and returning home with an atlas of precious materials." Instead of using rare stones, Neill elevates waste material into a luxury object.
The table makes a lovely design statement, and it's also saying something about what we cast off as trash. Neill, like other designers, is looking at waste materials in a new light. Studio Swine turned ocean plastic into beautiful design objects; Adidas knit a pair of sneakers out of the material. Garbage is only in the eye of the beholder and all it takes is a clever idea to unleash its creative potential.