269,000 tons of it floats upon the surface, and beneath it, around 4 billion plastic microfibers occupy the deep sea (National Geographic).
Those numbers do continually fluctuate, but within the past few centuries (mainly since the industrial revolution and upon maintaining global mass production), it has grown significantly and continues to poison our oceans’ ecosystems.
Over half of the world’s oxygen is produced by the ocean. It absorbs fifty times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere. Heat is self-regulated among the ocean and between the poles, ensuring climate and weather patterns (N.O.S.). It houses over one million different species, of which sustain the world’s largest ecosystem, each element relying on the next for environmental support.
The fact that there are nearly 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris floating around aimlessly in the ocean, carelessly polluted by humans, is posing a tremendous threat to the world’s largest ecosystem, known as the ocean.
When it comes to marine pollution, however, where exactly does design come into play?
It was mentioned by Allied Market Research that in 2019, the plastic furniture market size was valued at $14,593.1 million, and is forecasted to hit $19,075.3 million by 2027. Now, are Steelcase Sit-Stands sitting at the bottom of the ocean? What about a Gesture Chair? Probably not. However, when furniture (or any plastic) ends up in landfill, it undergoes weathering, erosion, or are exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun. These factors combined contribute to breaking down plastic into microplastics.
Microplastics are where it gets tricky.
They’re not biodegradable, so once they end up in the environment, they stay there. Over the past few decades, microplastics have been found in oceans, freshwater ecosystems, in our air (as dust and airborne particles), in more than 114 aquatic species, and even in the human bloodstream.
When they come into contact with marine life invertebrate sea animals such as crabs and other crustaceans, they mistake it for food. Upon their consumption, they are likely to consume less food, thus leaving them with less energy to execute their daily life functions.
As microplastics work their way up the food chain of marine life, from zooplankton to large marine predators, it is highly estimated that neurological and reproductive toxicity will occur. The consequences of pollution are immensely harmful, potentially damaging food chains to an unimaginable level (Britannica).
An ecosystem cannot function properly if one element is out of place, so when we observe the millions of microplastics intruding a once natural-flowing ecosystem such as the marine environment, we suspect catastrophic damage.
Now that we understand how microplastics form and can grasp their immense damage to various ecosystems, we can question solutions: what’s left for us to do?
There are ocean cleanup nonprofits such as Ocean Cleanup, which aims to clean up 50% of plastic waste in the ocean in the next five years. For the furniture industry, there are various solutions.
One of them is us, Reseat. We offer second, third, and fourth life cycles for furniture that’s meant to last, reducing the amount of furniture waste that goes into landfill. We aim to offer full reupholstery services within the next few years as well, with ways to properly dispose of the waste.
There are furniture manufacturers, however, who create products both meant to reduce waste from the start and last a long time.
If you haven’t already become familiar with Humanscale and their products, allow us to introduce the two of you.
Reader, meet Humanscale.
Humanscale is a manufacturing company whose headquarters lies in New York. Creating net positive products and receiving a plethora of sustainability certificates, Humanscale offers a chair called the Ocean Chair, available in styles “Smart” and “Liberty.”
Its mesh is made from nearly two pounds of reclaimed fishing nets. They also make a point to emphasize their Net Positivity, indicating that by being produced, the product provides clean energy and water.
Manufacturers such as them are what the design industry needs more of, utilizing more of what we already have rather than creating more products we likely don’t necessarily need.
And when you’re done sitting in your chair, sitting at your desk, filing your papers away in your file cabinets, we’ll be here to find your things a second home and prevent your built-to-last furniture from going to landfill.