Plastiki Update: A Plastic Bottle Ship Crosses the Pacific

On March 20, 2010, a catamaran made from 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles set sail from San Francisco.  The crew, headed by environmentalist David de Rothschild, included adventurers, photographers, scientists, and filmmakers.  Their destination: Sydney Australia, 8,000 nautical miles away.  Their mission: to document the Pacific garbage patch and raise awareness about ocean pollution.

Plastiki carried a literal boatload of electronics, powered by onboard solar panels and wind turbines.  Throughout the journey, the crew stayed connected with the mainland via the Internet, attracting thousands of fans and follower in the process.  Plastiki finished its 130-day journey in late July, so I thought this would be a good time to review the facts that de Rothschild is trying to promote.

  • It is estimated that almost all of the marine pollution in the world is comprised of plastic materials. The average proportion varied between 60% and 80% of total marine pollution.
  • In many regions in the northern and southern Gyres, plastic materials constitute as much as 90 to 95% of the total amount of marine debris.
  • Scientists estimate that every year at least 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die when they entangle themselves in plastic pollution or ingest it.
  • According to Project Aware, 15 billion pounds of plastic are produced in the U.S. every year, and only 1 billion pounds are recycled. It is estimated that in excess of 38 billion plastic bottles and 25 million Styrofoam cups end up in landfills and although plastic bottles are 100% recyclable, on average only 20% are actually recycled.

In modern society, we tend to take disposability for granted.  But waste is not present in nature; maybe that’s why ecosystems have a hard time dealing with human garbage.  Plastic, for instance, breaks into smaller pieces, but it doesn’t biodegrade.  So, almost every piece of plastic that ever entered the ocean is still there.  Surprisingly, much of this seagoing trash originated on land.  The ocean is downstream from us, no matter where we live — that means that, if we want to help, our everyday choices can make a difference.  Here are some ideas:

  • When you go shopping, BYOB — bring your own bags.  Many stores sell bags for reasonable prices, and you might even get a discout for bringing them.
  • Get a few re-usable water bottles instead of relying on one-time-use plastic bottles.
  • Choose products with recycled packaging.  Better yet, look for products made from recycled materials.
  • Zero waste is an excellent goal, but sometimes you do have to dispose of something.  In these cases, recycling really does make a difference.
  • Be creative and think of your own ideas!

Check out the Plastiki Expedition‘s website to track the voyage, view photos and videos, and learn more about the technology and design of the ship.  You can even explore the Plastiki in 3-D.  The site is really cool and definitely worth taking a few minutes to explore.

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