From plastic waste to design furniture that lasts a lifetime

February 18, 2020
By The Explorer
Hero_chair_dark background_cropped.jpg

Bjørnar Øvrebø

Snøhetta’s S-1500 chair is a stunning example of how plastic waste from Norway’s fish farming industry can be transformed into a sustainable design object with an expected lifetime of at least 100 years.

Two years ago, the internationally acclaimed architecture and design firm Snøhetta embarked on an extensive research project on plastic. The objective was to understand the material’s nature, qualities and footprint, and to challenge both the public and industry’s view on plastic waste as having no intrinsic value.

“The project started with my personal interest in opportunities for material research, among them plastic. Receiving public innovation funding opened a lot of doors and made the project possible,” says Snøhetta architect Stian Alessandro Ekkernes Rossi.

Snøhetta’s research has materialised in several projects, among them a plastic laboratory, new ways of viewing disposable packaging, and the development of a thoroughly modern design icon.

The Snøhetta Plastic Lab is studying and testing different ways of treating plastics, with current focus on re-granulated plastic from fish nets and hay bale wrapping, office supplies and Styrofoam. The lab is housed in a container and is located on tiny Sukkerbiten island near the Oslo Opera House (designed by Snøhetta).


The Snøhetta Plastic Lab is housed in a container in downtown Oslo, near the Opera House.


The beginning of a beautiful collaboration

The first physical result of the plastic research project is the S-1500 chair designed by Snøhetta in collaboration with furniture producer Nordic Comfort Products (NCP). The aim was to turn plastic waste into highly durable interior design objects, as sustainable as they are visually unique.

NCP is located in Nordland county in North Norway. The company’s journey also started two years ago, with a study conducted with the research institute SINTEF Manufacturing on how plastic waste from aquaculture can be reused in furniture production. NCP invested in state-of-the-art equipment for injection moulding with a focus on plastic recycling and the circular economy.

The CEO of NCP, Svein-Erik Hjerpbakk, contacted Rossi after hearing about Snøhetta’s research project in the media. The result: plastic waste from several aquaculture companies is now being manufactured into a school chair designed by Snøhetta.

“The S-1500 chair is produced using injection moulding, which is a sustainable way of working with plastic structures as it allows production to employ exactly the amount of material one needs – in this case 1 500 grams of recycled plastic. The process leaves no excess waste material and requires no additional finishing. The S-1500 chair is made to have significant longevity, and as the recycled material has no additives it can be remelted to be used again and again,” explains Rossi.



Reducing waste and creating a circular economy

The body of the S-1500 chair is made out of 100 per cent recycled plastic from worn-out nets, pipes and ropes provided by local fish farming companies Kvarøy Fiskeoppdrett and Nova Sea.

The waste is collected, processed and ground into granules that are in turn injected into formwork, or mould. The chair’s subframe is made from recycled steel by the company Celsa Armeringsstål, also located in Nordland county. Thus, production of the chair has created a regional, circular economy.

Moreover, because no new raw materials are used, the chair has one of the smallest carbon footprints in its market segment – five to eight kg of CO₂, cradle to grave.


Bjørnar Øvrebø

Redesigning an iconic chair

The S-1500 chair is a structural redesign of a design icon produced by NCP – Norwegian modernist Bendt Winge’s classic R-48 chair. Launched in the late 1960s, over 5 million R-series chairs for schools and offices have been sold in Norway.

The characteristic colours of the fish nets and other used plastic waste – yellow, blue and green – blend beautifully into a dark forest green shade similar to marble, so no additional colour is needed.

The updated, ultra-sustainable chair was showcased at the Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair in February 2019.

According to Rossi, the demand for the chair has mostly come from abroad, but the furniture manufacturer will only ship it by sea.

“When the chair travels,” he says, “it will travel in the most environmentally friendly way possible.”



Waste with a value is no longer waste

Plastic is a synthetic polymer extracted from oil. The use of plastic has increased dramatically since the 1960s, and both the production and disposal of plastic has a significant impact on the environment.

In order to reduce the need to produce virgin plastic, both consumers and industry must acknowledge the inherent value in plastic waste and find creative ways to reuse the material.

With the S-1500 chair, Snøhetta hopes to inspire industry to use recycled plastic in new ways through innovation and design. The company is now developing a new design lamp that optimises sustainable production and material use, and which is scheduled for launch in 2020.

“We are also looking to do something similar with clay,” says Rossi. “The seabed of the inner Oslo fjord consists mainly of blue clay, and the construction industry is stuck with a lot of leftover material. We are researching every possibility and are definitely open for collaboration with companies working with clay.”

Snøhetta is seeking to combat the production of virgin plastic. “It is a grave misunderstanding that industry does not have sufficient access to large amounts of plastic that can be reused again and again. Should we ever run out of used plastic, the chair will die,” concludes the architect.

Given the tremendous amount of plastic pollution, this scenario does not seem to be imminent.



Ocean challenges, creativity and sustainability

Snøhetta is an architecture and design pioneer, and not shy about tackling ocean challenges. The company has designed Under, the world’s largest underwater restaurant, which also functions as a research centre for marine life as well as an artificial reef.

Snøhetta is a key partner in the Powerhouse alliance as well, which designs and constructs energy-positive commercial and residential buildings.