Amsterdam-based Plastic Whale fishes trash out of the water and turns it into boats, furniture and more.
Plastic Whale started by removing plastic from Dutch canals, and is now recycling and building high-end furniture from it.
The table, chairs and lights in the photograph above all used to be plastic garbage floating in Amsterdam canals. Volunteers with Plastic Whale recycled it after fishing it out of the water — while cruising aboard boats made from recycled plastic that once was canal trash too. Talk about an evolution of construction in the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most celebrated boatbuilding nations. ¶ Plastic Whale started in 2011 and now includes 10 recycled plastic boats. The more plastic the company collects, the more boats that can be built to collect even more trash. Plastic Whale owner Marius Smit says the company collects 25,000 plastic bottles a year, along with tons of other plastic waste. Anybody can pay about $30 for one of eight spaces on a boat and then head out into the canals for two hours of “plastic fishing”
with mesh nets. Schools are booking trips, as are corporate organizers. As of this past September, more than 15,500 people had reportedly volunteered to don gloves and help out while seeing the historic canal sights. ¶ “Plastic fishing has a positive impact on kids. They love it,” Smit told The Guardian earlier this year. “As soon as they take the plastic out of the water, they see it doesn’t belong there. When we tell them that we make boats out of it, they understand it should be seen as a raw material, not as waste.” ¶ The success that Plastic Whale has achieved also led to the more recent creation of Plastic Whale Circular Furniture, which recycles the materials in additional ways. Plastic Whale partnered with Dutch furniture maker Vepa to combine recycled fabrics and steel with recycled PET bottles (think plastic water bottles) and more to create tables, chairs and lamps. Acoustic panels are available too, including ones backlit with colorful LEDs for an artistic effect. And each piece of furniture is modular so that, at the end of its life cycle, it can be broken down again and recycled for yet another use, whatever that might turn out to be in the future. ¶ For each piece of furniture that is sold, 10 percent of proceeds go to the Plastic Whale Foundation, which is working to spread recycling business models worldwide. In Bangalore, India, a waste-management enterprise is collecting and recycling plastic — creating local jobs while keeping the plastic out of landfills, so it can’t make its way into the water in the first place. ¶ “Our ambition is to create economic value from plastic waste in various parts of the world, especially in developing countries where the problem of plastic waste is worst,” Smit says. “By creating value from the waste, we give an economic impulse to the local community and attack the problem of plastic waste at the same time.”