‘Plastiki’ Sets Sail to Raise Awareness of Ocean Pollution

BY Lauren Knapp  April 21, 2010 at 3:20 PM EDT

On March 20 the Plastiki, a 60-foot-long catamaran made entirely of recycled plastic, set sail from San Francisco bound for Sydney, Australia. The vessel is the brainchild of environmentalist and British banking heir David de Rothschild.

The Rundown spoke with de Rothschild via Skype:

In 2006, de Rothschild came across a United Nations Environment Programme report highlighting the growing danger of plastic pollution in the oceans. Researchers first discovered the floating soup of plastic bits known as the Pacific garbage patch in 1997. Just this week, scientists announced they had identified a similar patch in the Atlantic.

De Rothschild says he wanted to do something that would not only publicize the plastic pollution problem but also demonstrate the power of innovative design to combat it.

“We really are a message on a bottle,” he says.

Relying on a concept known as “cradle-to-cradle design,” de Rothschild wanted to show that waste is an unnecessary design flaw and that with a little innovation it could be used as a resource instead.

Over the course of three years, he and his team designed a boat made of plastic bottles. They collected over 12,500 2-liter bottles, many of which make up the boat’s two hulls. They developed a new fiberglass-like material made entirely of recyclable plastic. When the team hit stumbling blocks, they looked to nature for guidance, for example finding inspiration for how to fit together the plastic bottles in the way that seeds are packed into a pomegranate’s skin.

Now, de Rothschild and his five crew members are one month in to the three-month voyage across the Pacific. They’re taking advantage of social media to spread their message by tweeting, blogging, posting photos and videos, and allowing followers to track the Plastiki’s progress.

The NewsHour also reported on a similar journey in 2008, when Marcus Eriksen sailed a craft called the “JUNKraft” across the Pacific. The two projects shared a goal of raising awareness of plastic pollution, but de Rothschild has said in interviews that the Plastiki project focused more on design and technological innovation.