News / USA

Message in a Boat Made of Plastic Soda Bottles

The 'Plastiki' is on a global mission to beat waste

The Plastiki is made up of 12,500 plastic two-liter soda bottles.
The Plastiki is made up of 12,500 plastic two-liter soda bottles.

Multimedia

Audio
Sandra Gary

A British adventurer is spreading his own message in a bottle by crossing the Pacific Ocean aboard an 18-meter catamaran made of thousands of plastic soda bottles.

David de Rothschild's unusual boat is his way of drawing attention to the plastic polluting the world's oceans while also showcasing a solution. The 31 year old hopes to inspire followers with the boat he calls the "Plastiki."

Global mission

"We're on a mission to beat waste," says de Rothschild. "The Plastiki project is really trying to showcase that waste is inefficient design and that we can reuse everyday materials and rather than them ending up in landfill, or in our oceans, or being incinerated and ending up in our atmosphere, we can repurpose and build items that can be reused so we can close the loop."

The Plastiki is the brainchild of 31-year-old British banking heir David de Rothschild.
The Plastiki is the brainchild of 31-year-old British banking heir David de Rothschild.

After reading a United Nations report about the huge swirls of plastic trash in the oceans, the British banking heir thought up the expedition to draw attention to the problem.  

The name Plastiki echoes the Kon-Tiki, the raft that Norwegian anthropologist and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl built to cross the Pacific in 1947.

His grandson, Olaf Heyerdahl, was one of six crew members on the first leg of the Plastiki voyage, from San Francisco to Christmas Island.

The design

It took three years to design and build the unique vessel. De Rothschild says they learned a lot during the process.

"One of the breakthroughs of the project; we actually had to reenergize every bottle with a little bit of CO2," he says. "So imagine if you had a soda bottle and you were to shake it up before you opened it up. It becomes very, very hard. That's the carbon dioxide inside fizzy drinks that allows a bottle to stay so rigid. So we just put the powder inside and that basically allows each bottle to act as an individual buoyancy chamber."

The Plastiki's expedition is designed to draw attention to the problem of plastic trash in the oceans.
The Plastiki's expedition is designed to draw attention to the problem of plastic trash in the oceans.

De Rothschild, founder of Adventure Ecology — a London-based environmental education group — brought ecology-minded features to all aspects of the expedition, starting with the Plastiki's design and construction.

"That meant inventing an unlikely but effective glue made of sugar and the husks of cashew nuts to hold the plastic parts together. It also meant installing sophisticated solar cells and a human-powered bicycle on board to power communications equipment as well as provisioning the crew of six with fresh vegetables from a hydroponic garden."

The provisions were designed to last 110 days, and in mid-June with one month left before reaching Sydney, the crew was still eating fresh, organic food from San Francisco. But when water ran low, the crew chose to drink it rather than water the garden, which wilted.

"It provided us quite a lot on the first leg with an amazing fresh supply of chard and rainbow kales and dark leafy greens which are great nutrients and great for the mind," says de Rothschild.

Adapting

The Plastiki had to prove its seaworthiness on the planet's biggest body of water.

It hasn't always been smooth sailing. During the vessel's first 8,000 kilometers, the catamaran moved somewhat sideways, a little bit like a land crab, because it was built without a keel. That made it difficult to steer. When the Plastiki reached its second port of call, Samoa, de Rothschild made needed repairs and adaptations to the boat, including adding a  rudimentary retractable keel.

The voyage, combined with intense tropical heat, caused some material to shift and soften. Workers changed all of the rigging from stainless steel wire to lightweight rope and reinforced the two hulls, putting a layer of aluminum over the original recycled plastic material. It was a reluctant bow to the realities of an experimental vessel that needs to be ready in time to face the Australian winter ahead.

The boat also traveled more slowly than de Rothschild had hoped, leading to discomforts beyond the relentless exposure to sun and salt and lack of bathing facilities.

"There are days when the boat is barely moving, like right now, when we've been sailing almost on the same spot for the last 24 hours," he says by satellite phone in the South Pacific, en route from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia.
"That becomes a little bit of a challenge mentally. When you start to think about the enormity of how far we've got to go — another 2,800 miles at least to Australia — that does become slightly wearing and tearing."

Spreading the message


The crew lives on a six-by-18 meter covered platform suspended between the two hulls. When not sailing the vessel, the crew members blog on the Plastiki website, post photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube, and take questions from followers on the boat's Facebook page. All the while, they send a message about plastic pollution in the ocean.

The feedback comes in almost instantaneously. Like from a conversation via skype with 150 children at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in Texas. They had just walked through a tunnel built from 8,000 plastic bottles called, "Sea 'n' Recycle: In Honor of Plastiki."

The feedback has made a difference in de Rothschild's plans for the Plastiki itself after the journey is finished in July.

He originally planned to recycle the boat in Australia. But an international outpouring of interest in its use for educational purposes convinced him to keep it afloat, at least for a few more years. Its first stop will be the Australian Maritime Museum at Darling Harbor.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid