Plastiki Sets Sail

by DocHeather

 - Wed, Mar 31 2010

If you’ve been reading my blog or Tweets for a while, you know I’m not a fan of plastic.  Well David de Rothschild, founder of Adventure Ecology, has found a way to make plastic work.  After being inspired almost four years ago by a United Nations Environment Programme report (, de Rothschild had an idea to build the world’s first boat made completely of recycled plastic bottles.  David and his crew, heading from San Francisco to Sydney, set sail on “The Plastiki” last week.


The Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran, is named after the Kon-Tiki -- the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer, Thor Heyerdahl, in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands.


The Plastiki is made of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles.  She will travel 11,000 nautical miles across the Pacific to both raise awareness about the condition of our oceans as well as to see first hand the impact we people having on the environment.  The Great Eastern Garbage Patch is one of the destinations prior to completing the journey three months later in Sydney.


I was lucky enough to be invited to the press’ unveiling a few weeks ago.  I met the Plastiki team and was even able to go on board and check her out myself.  David de Rothschild’s passion for this project and the environment is obvious.  For the past several years his life has been dedicated to saving our planet – even at great risk of his own.


Jo Royle, The Plastiki’s award-winning skipper (hear my interview with her), was super-sweet and very enthusiastic about spreading the message about plastic and other pollutants in our oceans.  Jo shared something that really made such an impact on me  -- and makes no sense to her:  The boating industry is responsible for producing incredibly toxic waste, even though their own captains and crews see the effects first hand. Isn’t time to change?


Another super-interesting person (and crew member) I met was Olav Heyerdahl -- Thor Heyerdahl’s (Norwegian explorer, writer and Captain of the Kon-Tiki mentioned above) grandson.  Olav shared some of his own experiences sailing the world, comparing his journeys to those of his grandfather’s, via diaries and logs meticulously kept by the elder Heyerdahl.  Since his grandfather’s travels, the condition of our oceans has changed drastically.  Where sharks made it nearly impossible for his grandfather to swim, Olav said he has seen only a few.  Where his grandfather was able to eat tuna daily, Olav only had one such, because there just wasn’t any tuna to be caught.  Olav, unfortunately, has seen an abundance of trash, especially plastic; his grandfather, however, saw none.  In fact, his grandfather never recorded seeing any man-made debris. 



The Plastiki


Not that I’m an expert on boat building, but my first impression was how sleek she is.   Nothing I saw made me think she was built from recycled materials.  Actual bottles make up the body of the boat and provide nearly 70% of her buoyancy.  The glue, made especially for The Plastiki, is a special mix of cashews and sugar (ok, yum!).  The sails are one of the first to be made from recycled plastic and the masts are constructed from aluminum irrigation piping.


Matthew Grey, the expedition coordinator, demonstrated one of the most unique and interesting features of the boat – the on-board bicycle.  The bike has a dual purpose:        1) to help prevent loss of muscle mass, and 2) to generate power.


One of my most favorite features was the vegetable garden.  As a nutritionist and vegetarian, I thought this was such a great idea.  Having on-board access to fresh, organic greens will no doubt help keep everyone healthy.


It took immense effort to make The Plastiki as sustainable as possible and if it’s possible for a boat, it’s no doubt possible for any building or structure.  The homes we live in, the cars we drive, the offices we work in can all be made less toxic!  The technology is out there.  It takes commitment, but as David de Rothschild, his crew and the developing team have proven, it’s possible.


I commend them all on their dedication.  David said that one of his goals was to show that it could be done.  The Plastiki will definitely inspire other industries to head in the same direction.


Now I ask you, dear readers, how can you raise awareness and have an impact?


Live natural.  Live well.



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