Electrolux draws attention to plastic in the ocean by producing five unique vacuum cleaners made with marine debris

November 4th, 2010 by Electrolux plc

Electrolux has produced five unique vacuum cleaners that have been made from plastic waste collected from the world’s oceans – the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

The ‘Vac from the Sea’ initiative aims to raise awareness about the marine plastic problem, by collecting ocean plastic waste and making vacuum cleaners out of it.  Hopefully it will inspire consumers and industry to recycle more.

Electrolux concept Vacs from the Sea made with plastic debris collected from the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea (click to expand)

The vacuum cleaners embody the plastic paradox: oceans are full of plastic waste, yet on land there is a shortage of recycled plastic for producing sustainable vacuum cleaners.

“Our intention is to bring awareness to the situation and the need for better plastic karma.  So far, over 60 million people have been reached and we are continuing the initiative following the great response,” says Cecilia Nord, Vice President – Floor Care Sustainability and Environmental Affairs, Electrolux.

“More recycling directly translates into more sustainable appliances and homes. Our engineers have managed to get our green range vacuum cleaners up to 70 percent recycled plastic but our ultimate vision is of course 100 percent, and for all ranges,” says Jonas Magnusson, Product Marketing Manager at Electrolux.  Electrolux plc plans to launch the Green Vac in the UK early in 2011.

The main barrier to taking the next step and increase the share of recycled plastic in home appliances is the uncertain supply of recycled raw material. Much research and progress is currently being done by the recycling industry.  However, to fix the imbalance in supply and demand and get the cycle working, overall consumer perception must change and barriers to recycling must be lower.

“This issue is much too important to leave to politicians. Companies, consumers and politicians are equally accountable for the situation. Since our company delivers appliances to millions of homes, we have an opportunity to raise awareness and affect consumer decisions”, says Cecilia Nord.

Hans Stråberg, CEO and President of Electrolux, said “I would like to thank everyone that has brought attention to the issue and express my deepest gratitude to our partners for providing us with knowledge and working with us in gathering plastic from the world’s oceans.”

Electrolux is looking into auctioning one vac, where the revenue goes to research. At the moment, the quality and the logistics needed for cleaning and sorting ocean plastic makes it difficult to use in mass production.

“Right now, only post consumer plastic on land meets our commercial safety and quality standards. However, as part of our commitment to researching new materials, we should explore how the ocean plastic might be used in the future, and one such step is to make a single concept vac that we can auction” said Cecilia Nord.

Vac from the Sea - Pacific Edition Collection site: Hawaii, USA Method: Beach cleanup Partners: B.E.A.C.H. (click image to expand)

The plastic from the Pacific Ocean was different from the other collection sites. The plastic had been bleached by the sun and corroded by salt water. Red and dark objects often attracts birds, fish and other sea-animals when they think they are food. The plastic that is left in the sea and that washes up on beaches is usually blue, green or white. Some of the found objects were covered with barnacles and annelid worms. Other objects had traces of bite marks from sharks.

The concept vacuum cleaner is made of the drifting plastic grain that fills our oceans. This plastic debris is dangerous because it can easily be swallowed by fish and continue through the whole food chain to both animals and humans.

Vac from the Sea - North Sea Edition Collection site: Skagerrak, Sweden Method: Coastal cleanup Partners: Sotenäs Municipality (click image to expand)

The plastic that was collected on the Bohuslän beaches in Sweden consisted largely of various rinse aid and detergent bottles, cans, plastic buckets, and all kinds of plastic packaging. The plastic has not been bleached in the same way as in the great oceans. It is still loud and strong in color. A lot of the plastic recovered was also drenched in spilled oil.

The plastic was washed clean and cut in pieces. The bright colored pieces were then punched into circular tokens. The circular tokens were then applied onto a fiberglass weave, and moulded over the shape of the vacuum cleaner.

Vac from the Sea - Mediterranean Edition Collection site: St Cyr-sur-Mer, France Method: Beach clean-up Partners: Surfrider Foundation (click image to expand)

Most of the plastic from St Cyr-sur-Mer was composed of plastic objects thrown or washed out-to-sea from the great tourist beaches – PET plastic bottles, food containers, beverage cans and beach toys. Tourism provides the Mediterranean Sea with tons of plastic on a daily basis. Most of it remains in the sea forever because of plastic’s slow degradation.

The plastic from Marseille was cut into heart-shaped pieces and then attached to a thin shell of industrially recycled plastic. In order to form the necessary shape out of the plastic the designers used hot air.

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