Beyond Fiberglass: Think Plastiki

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There’s a lot going on with David de Rothschild, and not all of it is TV glitz, eco-PR and his highly-publicized bid to become the world’s leading “adventure ecologist.”
Yes, he is one of those Rothschilds–a handsome, 30-year-old heir to the famed European banking fortune. He’s the guiding light behind the Adventure Ecology eco-community and also the star/host of the Sundance Channel’s aptly named Eco-Trip show, which features a mostly bemused, angry or surprised de Rothschild confronting various ecological topics and absurdities on a weekly basis.
One of his recent shows spotlighted the obscene amount of land devastation that goes into the mining and making of a simple gold ring.
But the thing that is getting him the most publicity is his Plastiki Expedition.


The Plastiki Expedition is a project with a dual purpose: a) to design and build an entirely recyclable and eco-friendly 60-foot catamaran “yacht” made of thousands of reclaimed plastic bottles, and b) to sail this revolutionary and high-tech craft to the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch as a demonstration both of what humans are doing to the oceans and as a think-different message of what is possible to make out of the trash we make and dump.

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“This is the hundredth year of plastic,” de Rothschild said at last week’s Greener by Design conference. “Plastic is an amazing material and it is still misunderstood. I’m trying to get people to think about plastic as part of the solution.”
Waste as resource is the message.
The Plastiki is inspired by and is an homage to The Kon-Tiki, Thor Heyerdahl’s famous 1947 expedition on a balsa log raft. Heyerdahl sailed from South America to the Polynesian Islands to show that pre-Columbians could have settled Polynesia.
De Rothschild’s recyclable boat will comprise some 12,500 2-liter plastic bottles collected by Waste Management, will weigh 9 tons, and will have a crew of six. The Plastiki will have a composting toilet, onboard renewable energy and a garden.
It’s under construction at Pier 31 in San Francisco. While the project has been delayed a couple of times because of technical and engineering complications, it’s scheduled for completion in September, or thereabouts.
Once the building part is completed he’ll sail 12,000 nautical miles from San Francisco to Sydney, stopping to record, collect water samples and publicize the huge swath of plastic trash and other debris known as the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch.
Like the Kon-Tiki, the Plastiki aims to draw attention to what is possible and “to the rethinking of our everyday human fingerprints on the natural world and in turn capturing the world’s imagination by telling a story,” de Rothschild says.
Another major part of the story is that de Rothschild and his engineering team are developing a revolutionary eco-alternative to the boat-building business. Their approach could change the boat industry’s commercial seascape.
The Plastiki could become the prototype poster child for a new industry that goes beyond the use of non-recyclable fiberglass for boats.
The Plastiki’s frame will use a new plastic product called self-reinforced polyethylene terephthalate, or srPET. Developed in Europe, it is similar in strength to fiberglass, but unlike fiberglass it is made of entirely of 100 percent recyclable plastic.
If this approach is successful it could spur a shift throughout the boating industry to entirely recyclable boats, and away from fiberglass. Other srPET applications could soon follow: How about an srPET surfboard?
Another engineering marvel on display aboard the Plastiki will be solar powered LED lights using plastic water bottles as anchor lamps.
With Plastiki showing the way, plastic and plastic waste would truly become a new kind of sea treasure.
Photo Sources: The Plastiki Expedition

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