written by:
photos by:
January 23, 2011
Originally published in Rethink Recycling

The tale of the Emeco's 111 Navy chair is that of a phoenix rising. In 1944, the Hanover, Pennsylvania-based company began producing the original 1006 Navy chair. But despite supplying these chairs—the first to be made from 80 percent recycled aluminum—for use in virtually every U.S. Navy application that required sitting, the company was on the brink of collapse by the late 1990's. While on his way to shutter Emeco, owner Gregg Buchbinder had a startling revelation upon reviewing records: Architects Frank Gehry and Norman Foster had long been ordering chairs directly from the factory. Inspired, Buchbinder revived Emeco with a series of striking new designs, including those from Gerhy and Foster.

111 Navy Chair by Emeco

The original Emeco Navy 1006 (pronounced "ten oh six") chair caught the attention of famous modernist architects including Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. Knock-offs can be found worldwide but the authenticity of the Emeco chair is easily verified by finding indentions on the backside of the chair. Today, the company still manufactures the same 77-step design with recycled Coca-Cola bottles. Photo by Armando Bellmas.

Photo by 
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111 Navy Chair recycled materials
Eight to ten trailer truckloads of PET bales—each measuring 80 cubic feet and consisting of 20,000 bottles—arrive for processing every weekday.
Photo by 
2 / 13
111 Navy Chair process float sink tank
A worker operates the float-sink tank. Heavier, nonrecyclable materials sink to the bottom, leaving on the water's surface only rPET, which then becomes white rinse flake.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in Grind and Sort
3 / 13
Emeco factory recycling conveyor belt
Bottles are sorted on a conveyor belt.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in Grind and Sort
4 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair recycling plant
A view of the heavy machinery inside the New United Resource Recovery Corporation recycling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in The UnPET Process
5 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair Rinse Flake
The rinse flake undergoes NURRC's patented UnPET process, in which the surface of the PET material is removed (depolymerized) and the remaining compound is roasted to remove any volatile organic content.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in The UnPET Process
6 / 13
Emeco factory 111 Navy Chair rinse flakes
The white rinse flake.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in The UnPET Process
7 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair rPET mixture
Each Navy chair begins life as 13 pounds of rPET plastic pellets, which are melted down and injected into the chair mold, a multiton device that functions like a gigantic waffle iron.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in In the Mold
8 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair robotic arm
After the rPET mixture is heated and transformed via injection molding into a chair, a robotic arm removes it from the specially designed mold.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in In the Mold
9 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair removed from mold
The 111 Navy chairs are exact replicas of the beloved aluminum originals, down to the faux weld points on the backside.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in In the Mold
10 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair design process
A worker smoothes any imperfections before manually installing the H-brace.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in Final FInishes
11 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair process
One of the final steps is to install the H-Brace and feet, both fabricated on another mold.
Photo by 
Originally appeared in Final FInishes
12 / 13
Emeco 111 Navy Chair
Each chair is stamped on the underside to read, "Help your bottle become something extraordinary again."
Photo by 
Originally appeared in Final FInishes
13 / 13
111 Navy Chair by Emeco

The original Emeco Navy 1006 (pronounced "ten oh six") chair caught the attention of famous modernist architects including Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. Knock-offs can be found worldwide but the authenticity of the Emeco chair is easily verified by finding indentions on the backside of the chair. Today, the company still manufactures the same 77-step design with recycled Coca-Cola bottles. Photo by Armando Bellmas.

111 Navy Chair by Emeco

The original Emeco Navy 1006 (pronounced "ten oh six") chair caught the attention of famous modernist architects including Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. Knock-offs can be found worldwide but the authenticity of the Emeco chair is easily verified by finding indentions on the backside of the chair. Today, the company still manufactures the same 77-step design with recycled Coca-Cola bottles. Photo by Armando Bellmas.

In 2006, Emeco partnered with the Coca-Cola Company to recreate the iconic chair using rPET (in essence, recycled plastic bottles). Judging by its reception at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair, the 111 Navy chair—so named for the number of plastic bottled required to fabricate each seat—has an extremely bright future ahead.

Grind and Sort
The story of the 111 Navy Chair starts in the New United Resource Recovery Corporation (NURRC) recycling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where eight to ten trailer truckloads of PET bales—each measuring 80 cubic feet and consisting of 20,000 bottles—arrive for processing every weekday.

111 Navy Chair recycled materials
Eight to ten trailer truckloads of PET bales—each measuring 80 cubic feet and consisting of 20,000 bottles—arrive for processing every weekday.

The bales, which have traveled from municipalities east of the Mississippi River, are loaded onto conveyor belts for sorting. Virtually everything involved in the PET reclamation process at NURRC—including the water used to wash the bottles—is recycled. Non-PET materials, such as polypropylene caps, are sold to other facilities. ; by-products are reused, such as ethylene glycol, then used in automobile antifreeze.
111 Navy Chair process float sink tank
A worker operates the float-sink tank. Heavier, nonrecyclable materials sink to the bottom, leaving on the water's surface only rPET, which then becomes white rinse flake.

Barring any snafus in the sorting process—bowling balls and small engines have been spotted on the conveyor belt—the bottles are sorted, ground, sent through dry and wet washes (which transforms them into rinse flake), and then sorted by color.

The UnPET Process

Emeco 111 Navy Chair Rinse Flake
The rinse flake undergoes NURRC's patented UnPET process, in which the surface of the PET material is removed (depolymerized) and the remaining compound is roasted to remove any volatile organic content.
The rinse flake undergoes NURRC's patented UnPET process, in which the surface of the PET material is removed (depolymerized) and the remaining compound is "roasted" to remove any volitive organic content, rendering it usable for food grade packaging (much of the rPET is used to make new bottles and other products). "Think of the process like an onion," explains Lawson "Boo" Hayes, CFO of the plant. "You pull an onion out of the ground and it's covered in dirt. You shake it and some of the dirt comes off. You peel a little more off and you get a pearl of an onion. That's basically what we do with the PET here: It comes looking dark and dirty, and we literally etch off the outer layers to remove all impurities." The company processes 100 million pounds of PET bales each year, seven days a week, making the facility one of the global leaders in PET recycling.

In the Mold

Emeco 111 Navy Chair rPET mixture
Each Navy chair begins life as 13 pounds of rPET plastic pellets, which are melted down and injected into the chair mold, a multiton device that functions like a gigantic waffle iron.
By the time the rPET compound reaches the cavernous 270,000-square-foot Bemis Manufacturing facility in the rolling Blue Ridge foothills of North Carolina—a meticulous industrial wonderland humming, both literally and figuratively, with energy—the rPET has already made a trip to BASF in Tennessee, where it is combined with glass fiber and color pigment. Amid hydraulic machines creating components for garden supplies, construction equipment, and school buses, each 111 Navy chair begins life as 13 pounds of rPET plastic pellets, which are melted down and injected into the chair mold, a multiton device that functions like a gigantic waffle iron. Once the mold is loaded, the chair is formed, hollowed out via gas injection, then tempered and cooled. The entire process takes approximately three minutes. Following the initial in-mold cooling, the chair is removed by a robot and presented to a factory worker.
Emeco 111 Navy Chair robotic arm
After the rPET mixture is heated and transformed via injection molding into a chair, a robotic arm removes it from the specially designed mold.

Final Finishes
The worker smooths any imperfections before manually installing the H-brace (created on another mold) as well as the feet.
Emeco 111 Navy Chair design process
A worker smoothes any imperfections before manually installing the H-brace.

This final laying on of hands, labor intensive though it may be, is the hallmark of Emeco's Navy chair legacy. Watching the technician clean the rough points on each chair, one is struck by the hybrid nature of this project, in which 21st-century recycling technology is married to a handmade aesthetic, producing an object both old and new—in more ways than one.
Emeco 111 Navy Chair process
One of the final steps is to install the H-Brace and feet, both fabricated on another mold.

The  111 Navy chairs are exact replicas of the aluminum originals, down to the faux weld points on the backside; Emeco knew that Navy-chair devtees would accept nothing less. "At the Milan Furniture Fair," says Daniel Fogelson, Emeco's vice president of sales and marketing, "the first thing our clients did was turn the chair around and look for those [weld] marks, just to make sure we hadn't screwed it up." And the company hasn't.

Emeco 111 Navy Chair
Each chair is stamped on the underside to read, "Help your bottle become something extraordinary again."

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