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Colourful ocean waste makes compelling environmental statement

Sweden – Swedish home appliance manufacturer Electrolux is unveiling five vacuum cleaners produced entirely of waste plastics collected from the ocean. The launch marks the next phase in the company’s international ‘Vac from the Sea’ sustainability project, launched in 2010.

Electrolux incorporates materials that wash into the sea or are discarded there, including beverage cans, fishing gear, flip-flops and beach toys, in its limited-edition vacuum cleaners. In the Pacific version, for example, the entire hood and wheels are produced from small particles of plastic ‘gravel’ poured into conventional glass fibre moulds.

The devices themselves aren’t meant to be commercialised, but serve as a symbolic reminder of the great lack of ocean plastics recycling. ‘Our intention is to raise awareness of the situation and show the need for better plastic karma,’ explains Cecilia Nord, Vice President – Floor Care Sustainability and Environmental Affairs for Electrolux.

The company is looking into auctioning off a single ‘concept vacuum’, and will commit the funds raised towards further research. This is needed, Electrolux states, because the current quality of recovered material doesn’t meet its standards, subsequently making mass production of ocean-derived waste plastics unviable. ‘As part of our commitment to researching new materials, we should explore how ocean plastic might be used in the future,’ Mrs Nord comments.

Fishermen and marine organisations have responded positively to the ‘Vac from the Sea’ initiative, and are making increasing effort to remove the plastics waste they encounter. This can be a significant challenge, as Thai divers have found when they have to cut nets and plastic bags free from coral reefs.

The material that finds its way from the North Sea back to the Electrolux design centre in Stockholm requires extensive cleaning because of bleaching by the sun and salt water corrosion. But most of the plastics fragments retain their bright colours, making an ‘iconic statement’ in terms of potential reuse in new appliances, the company states.

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