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Plastiki – A solution to waste

By: Parrys Raines, Category: Science, Date: 18 Feb 2010

One man’s environmental dream becomes a reality and he is educating the planet to consider waste as a resource. The Plastiki is history in the making!

Plastiki

Parrys Raines © Parrys Raines

I would like to share something I find really inspiring and the reason I find this inspiring is that a problem is highlighted and a solution is offered.

The answer to climate change and other environmental issues is finding different ways of doing things through system changes.

We are living is an era of environmental madness where we are continuing to do the same thing over and over again and getting the same crazy destructive result. Our planet cannot sustain this and it is time for change.

So what if I told you that it is possible to build a 20 metre catamaran made from reclaimed plastic bottles, self reinforced P.E.T and recycled waste products. Would you believe me?

Well it is possible and it has just finished being built and in a matter of weeks it will set sail from San Francisco via the Pacific Ocean and the expedition will finish here in Sydney.

This amazing vessel is called Plastiki and it is a symbol of what is possible and what is necessary. Its mission is to educate as many people as possible on how to beat waste and re-think waste as a resource.

We all know that waste contributes to climate change and I have previously blogged about waste in our oceans, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and plastic bottles. The most important fact about waste is when we throw things away there is no “away”. All the waste goes somewhere and in the not too distant future “away” will be full. Then what?

Plastiki will venture past the Great Pacific Garbage patch on its journey to Australia. Plastiki will also be stopping off at Pacific islands along the way and the crew will be learning and highlighting environmental issues facing each of them.

How did Plastiki come to be? An environmental adventurer by the name of David de Rothschild read a 2006 UNEP report that said “that there is an average of forty six thousand pieces of plastic debris floating on or near the surface of every square mile of ocean”

David’s reaction to this information was the same as anyone’s that read the report BUT it is David’s re-action to this knowledge that is unique and inspiring.
David came up with the idea of using plastic bottles to build the Plastiki to show how we can beat waste by reusing it.

I admire David for what he is trying to achieve, he is thinking about the future (my future and the planets) and through adventure will hopefully inspire action to reduce, reuse and recycle more of our natural resources.

It has taken David a few years to get to this point. David has a great team around him and the skipper for this adventure is Jo Royle who is an experienced ocean sailor and she too cares about waste and the affect it is having on our planet.

Plastiki was designed based on “cradle to cradle’ principles and biomimicry. “Cradle to Cradle” is the idea that at the end of life, any product can be turned into something else close to the cycle so that ultimately there is no waste. Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature and looking to nature for solutions.

The Plastiki Expedition is about:

Explaining how waste is a design flaw.

It is about getting us to understand about the materials used in our everyday lives and question where they come from, what is it actually made from and will it harm us or the planet and how can we reuse it when we have finished with it. When you have a look around you nearly everything is made of plastic and maybe we need to be asking ourselves is it necessary.

It is about rethinking and just because we have always done it this way we need to ask the question is there a better, safer way.

It is about getting the world to work together, from our world leaders down to us.

Change takes time and sometimes we have to unlearn things and relearn a better way to have a better outcome.

At the end of her journey Plastiki will be dismantled and up-cycled.

To find out more about Plastiki go the website: www.theplastiki.com

I had a moment like David’s when he read the UN report. I was in Paris in 2008. I was visiting the Louvre Museum and I was walking along the fountain walls and saw lots and lots of plastic bottles in the drain of the beautiful fountain. I could not believe how many there were and I thought to myself this is not right but what can I do about it and why doesn’t anyone care? Why do we need the single use plastic water bottle? Why do people think it is ok to just throw these bottles anywhere?

I wish David, Jo and the team a safe, fun and learning adventure and look forward to greeting them when they arrive in our beautiful harbour in a few months time.
The only problem the crew may encounter as they enter our waters is that they may have to fight off a small female pirate trying to hitch a ride – arghhh –death to the plastic bottle!

I believe we need a future that doesn’t have limits, pollution and so much waste.

Wouldn’t it be great to create and design things that didn’t harm the environment but was actually good for it?

Remember “Habits made today will help life tomorrow.”

6 comments

Parrys Raines - 7.02 PM, 28 February 2011

Mr Bryce, please know that prior to me posting a blog about the Plastiki everything written has been read and approved by David de Rothschild.To me the Plastiki expedition was an adventure that I was proud to be a part of because it highlighted the issue of waste in our oceans and how to use waste as a resource. The Plastiki did make history because it was the first vessel of it's kind to acheive such a great goal. The Plastiki was David's dream and he made his dream come true so you have to admire anyone that is able to fulfill their dreams. The Plastiki highlights the fact that waste can be used as a resource therefore being part of the solution and not the problem!

mr.bryce - 6.02 PM, 12 February 2011
radicalmike's intervention was interesting in that i can start to see a pattern, regarding the michael pawlin character. looking at his talk on nature's genius in architecture. the last thing you want, when building an utopia like the sahara forest project, is inaccurate hype. his segment on the production cycle and the schema given is nothing of a cycle. a barbaric approximation bended (designed) to look like a cycle, without taking into account the goods and wastes for each production step. considering 68% only were reclaimed bottles does matter in regards to what is actually advertised for the plastic boat project. so its one point for transparency, but minus ten for communication. your resolute politeness and engagement towards the project do not make up for the enthusiastic (hype) but misguiding (innacurate) presentation that is illustrated in the first three lines of this article. using words like solution, dream, history. i doubt anything in this project is as absolute as those words advertise. 68% an advertisement you see, is something that will touch the audience, regardless of the actual value of the product. people tend to question those. in a sane process.
Parrys Raines - 11.03 AM, 14 March 2010

The Plastiki is a sea vessel and of course it needs naval architecture to help with the design. The pomegranate was the inspiration of the design, its concept design was inspired by nature and that is what biomimicry is – looking to nature to see what is does and then try to mimic it. In this case it was a pomegranate. Michael Pawlyn stated this in his presentation. Nature has been doing what nature does for thousands of years and we can learn a lot from it.  Could it be possible that because you were not part of the initial talks between Michael Pawlyn and David de Rothschild that you were not aware of where the inspiration came from?

Looking at beetles demonstrates the team was again trying to gain inspiration from nature. The glue is organic and I would assume because of the nature of this project inspiration may have been gained by looking at nature. The glue may have already been available. It is an assumption and not a fact. This glue may also be useful for other industries as well and again the benefits of using “green” glue is huge.

 

“Submerged turbines near the rudders also generate power and can be reversed to provide up to two hours of propulsion when docking”.

Source :  http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/02/23/science/23sciillo_graphic.html?ref=science

 

If other marine vessels have been and are using sustainable life systems similar to what the Plastiki is going to use then that is fantastic!

 

I checked the new plastiki website and it has been updated and it states: - “The Plastiki is engineered almost entirely from 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles that provide 68% of the boat’s buoyancy”. There must be a good reason why they did not only use reclaimed bottles. I think this project has shown it is open and transparent.

 

I don’t believe there is any inaccurate “hype” as you stated. If you see any inaccuracies fair enough but I don’t think if there are any of the inaccuracies you see are enough to publicly dampen the “hype”.

 

I am excited by this project, very excited because I look to adults who are making a difference and making a difference by setting an example. The current adult generation cannot keep doing things the same way and things need to change before much more of the planets biodiversity is damaged beyond repair. Our environment is facing big issues and we need big solutions to help deal with these issues. Since I learnt of the Plastiki (August 2009) I have learnt so much about the plastic in oceans, the benefits of reusing waste, redesigning systems, lots about boats and the obvious plastic bottles. I say bring on more hype!

 

I f someone other than David de Rothschild owned this project I think it would still be noticed because of what this mission is about – using waste as a resource. The Plastiki is unique and people are intrigued by it. We need inspirational projects such as this for educational purposes.

No Politician and their policies are going to get the population to reassess their belief system and question what they value for them to make better consumer choices and bring about long term behavioural change. No Politician and their policies are going to get businesses to start thinking about doing things differently.

 

The Plastiki has also been a platform for information sharing. Other people are doing great things to help the environment. Sharing knowledge and learning from each other about how different people are rethinking and redesigning processes that benefit the planet and ultimately us humans. The information sharing allows us to see what is possible for example the srPET may be new option not only for the marine industry but other industries as well. The srPET looks like it would be a much better product to work with than fibreglass, it is probably safer and the production of this material may have environmental benefits also.

 

If you feel that I have not addressed your concerns about any inaccuracies to your satisfaction can I suggest you contact the Plastiki team or David himself.

 

One last point I would like to make and that is if David de Rothschild was not the owner of this project I am sure he would be supportive of it with or without inaccuracies and I would be too, that’s a fact!

radicalmike - 11.03 AM, 11 March 2010
Notwithstanding Michael Pawlin's claims, I can assure you that the structure of the pomegranate was not actually part of the design. The boat has been designed along principles of naval architecture. The final boat is an enlarged version of the prototype, which I built and had a lot of input into. The biology of various beetles is fascinating, but in fact none of it has been applied in this case, the desalination uses regularly applied principles that are pretty old-hat in the marine industry. Wind and solar power on yachts are absolutely normal and have been for at least 20 years in mass-produced forms. I don't believe the rudders on the Plastiki produce power. The toilet system is commonly used in areas without sewerage all over the world, the tradition 'long-drop' toilet is in fact a basic form of the same, and bio-cycle septic systems are really common. I know what the website says, I also know what actually happened in real life. This does to some degree miss the point though. I am all in favour of the project and it's aims, particularly the 'discovery' of Comfil's product - srPET and the publicising of the possibility of its application in the marine industry. I also understand the need of a project such as this to get noticed. David de Rothschild's ownership certainly helps there. I do feel though, that the project has sufficient merit to stand on its own reality without inaccurate hype
Parrys Raines - 8.03 PM, 08 March 2010

Mike,

I would like to try and address the three issues you have bought up.

 
1. There is no bio-mimicry in the design.
 
The Concept Architect for the plastiki project is Michael Pawlyn (BSc, BArch, RIBA).  Micheal has his own business that focuses on environmentally sustainable architecture inspired by nature. Michael did look to nature to get an idea for the design of Plastiki. Michael looked at pomegranate’s which is a tropical fruit and realised he could use the idea of the structure of this fruit to build the Plastiki. If you take a small part of the pomegranate it is not strong but all the parts together with the skin around it does make it strong. One plastic bottle is not going to be very strong but many put together with a membrane/skin around it would make the bottles strong. You can watch his explanation in part one of a talk he gave on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cL6yZ5_-cKI&feature=related
 
In part two of his talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayJiNU8jQ_k&feature=related he again mentions how the team looked to nature for solutions, they looked at a number of organisms that harvest their own water in a desert environment. In particular they looked at the Libyan Fog Basking Beetle and in part 3 and 4 of his talk he also mentions camels, the thorny devil and sand fish.
 
The glue used in the construction is made from cashew nut and sugar. No fibreglass has been used on the Plastiki. Nature can produce glue that is strong, works under water, is not water soluble and works on wet surfaces.  An example of this in nature is the Blue Mussel.
 
 
2. A good percentage of the bottles in the final boat are new and not recycled.
 
I have checked the Adventure Ecology website and it states “The expedition itself centres around a revolutionary boat made out of recycled plastic bottles” the Plastiki website is currently being redeveloped and upgraded so the relevant information is not on there yet.  All other material I have come across stats “recycled” or “reclaimed” plastic bottles.
 
A recent article in the New York Times has a great picture and labels stating “reclaimed” plastic bottles. This is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2010/02/23/science/23sciillo_graphic.htm
 
 
3. A lot of what is being touted as 'new' is in fact age-old standard marine practice - self sufficiency is a given on an ocean voyage, David de Rothschild hasn't introduced any new concepts in this area.
 
Do all vessels on an ocean voyage use sustainable life systems? The plastiki does in the way of a desalinator which is human powered to convert sea water to drinking water, wind, solar and pedal power to generate electricity, the rudders also generate power and a garden for growing herbs and sprouts. The Plastiki has a composting toilet. Most vessels release their sewage into the ocean causing more problems for the oceans ecosystem.
 
I know that the naval architect on the project lives in Sydney. He is a very talented and an award winning designer. I have checked his website and there is no mention of his work on Plastiki so maybe he is not as concerned about the lack of attribution as you are.
 
I also know you did work on the Plastiki and I applaud you for being involved in the project.
 
The expedition is not only about the vessel itself, it is about the message that there is too much plastic in our oceans and this mess will get bigger. Even if we start to clean the mess up the rubbish will continue to end up in our oceans if things don’t change. The Plastiki Expedition is highlighting the fact that waste is a design flaw and we can use waste as a resource. We need to go back to the beginning of the process and redesign it from a linear system to a closed looped system. This may be the only way we can protect our oceans in the future.
 
I personally support anyone who is trying to highlight environmental issues and take action by showing us solutions and is educational and optimistic.
radicalmike - 8.03 AM, 05 March 2010
Having set up the Plastiki operation in San Francisco in April '08 and then built the prototype and discovered the srPET material being used, I can correct and add to the article. First, there is no bio-mimicry in the design; second, a good percentage of the bottles in the final boat are new and not recycled. Third, a lot of what is being touted as 'new' is in fact age-old standard marine practice - self sufficiency is a given on an ocean voyage, David de Rothschild hasn't introduced any new concepts in this area. Australian readers may be interested to know that the architect who has designed the catamaran lives in Avalon, Sydney - one of my big complaints when I left the project 12 months go was the lack of attribution to essential personnel.

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