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Floating to History: Recyclable Plastiki on its Way

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday March 26th, 2010 | 5 Comments

A boat made out of more than 12,000 used plastic water bottles is on its way to Sydney, Australia, proving several points along way: That it can be done; that trash can be useful; and that the huge swath of plastic trash and other debris known as the Eastern Garbage Patch should never happen again.

And assuming the trip is successful, David de Rothschild’s Plastiki – a 60-foot catamaran made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles – could also launch a new approach to boat-building, sans fiberglass.

The Plastiki started on its 12,000 journey from San Francisco to Sydney last weekend with a goal of drawing attention to the health (or lack thereof) of the world’s oceans. The vessel’s itinerary will bring it close to Hawaii, the Bikini Atoll, and the Tarawa Islands. Its course will follow the Eastern Garbage Patch, where floating plastic covers an area twice the size of Texas.

The driving force behind the Plastiki Expedition is de Rothschild, an environmentalist, adventurer, head of Adventure Ecology, and the youthful heir to the famous European banking fortune.

“This is the hundredth year of plastic,” de Rothschild said last May at the 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.”

Plastiki’s hull is made entirely out of recycled plastic bottles filled with carbon dioxide. Nearly everything on the boat from the hull to the sails is made from recycled materials. Solar panels, wind and sea turbines generate power. It has an on-board stationary bike to provide extra power for electronics, including a laptop. There’s a hydroponic garden aboard to provide fresh green for the six-person crew, including de Rothschiled. The garden was designed by Inka Biospheric Systems, based in San Francisco.

The catamaran’s frame uses 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.

“We’re needlessly losing millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals from ingesting plastic every year,” de Rothschild told ABC News. “I decided to take this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problem and build a boat out of the very items that we were seeing ending up in our natural environment.”

As this is written the Plastiki is only five days into its epic journey, but you can track the voyage virtually in real time on the Plastiki blog.

It’s a publicity stunt that’s also pretty neat.


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  • http://blog.babyganics.com/ robert_jenkins

    12,000? Wow. That's a really good start. We have so many trash and only so much land to throw them in. We have some serious recycling to do, and 12,000 bottles for a single boat is a good sign. Now all those Starbucks cups…

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  • oceanlover

    It is not made entirely of recycled plastic. The srPET that makes the structure is VIRGIN plastic!!
    Plastic is not an amazing material, it is toxic!

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  • http://www.HowleyGreenEnergy.com/ John Howley

    Will be interesting to see if this technology is truly scalable. I've read some concerns about the process and tooling required being expensive. And we need to use a lot of plastic bottles to make a dent in the problem. Some reports estimate that 200 Billion litres of bottled water were sold world-wide in 2007. Using all those bottles would require building almost 17 million plastiki ships (or equivalent-sized structures).

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    I definitely agree with this!

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