Exploring the Plastiki

Exploring the Plastiki

By Jordan Kushins
Plastic waste is a huge problem. Single-use containers and products are clogging up our ecosystems, and the statistics are staggering: of the nearly 230 million tons of plastic the world uses annually, only about 10% is recycled, and there’s a garbage vortex twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean between North America and Asia. For David De Rothschild, avid traveler and founder of Adventure Ecology, a 2006 world report about the buildup of plastics in our oceans marked an ecological epiphany and the beginning of a journey to raise awareness and bring those numbers into tangible, sharper focus.

The quest for a solution needed an iconic symbol to represent it. His plan? The Plastiki. This deftly engineered 60-foot-long catamaran is made from soda bottles, recycled rubbish, and the new composite material srPET. It will set sail in November on a 10,000 mile trek from San Francisco to Sydney, recording and reporting back the state of affairs in the Pacific along the way.

"Waste is fundamentally a design issue, and plastic is not the enemy," De Rothschild says. "We need to redefine our understanding and use of the material." Working to eliminate the creation and consumption of single-use plastics, like the water bottles we’re buying around the world by the billion, is critical to maintaining the balance of life and litter that we create.

I had a chance to visit Plastiki HQ, and David showed me around the structure. Here he is explaining how the bottles will be attached to the boat.

In addition to the buzz-worthy 12,500 plastic bottles responsible for buoyancy, one of the most interesting aspects of the Plastiki’s design is the cabin—the ultimate off-grid structure. It’s constructed from self-reinforcing PET (srPET)—in one of its first major applications—which is, essentially, ground-up plastics melted down, then remade into fabric and foam. The process can repeat as many times as necessary, making the material’s lifecycle almost neverending. Nathaniel Corum, Outreach Director at Architecture for Humanity and Plastiki's cabin designer, forsees structures very similar to this touching ground and as first-response disaster pods that can withstand the range of elements, potentially replacing fiberglass as a cost-competitive alternative in the marine, automotive, and design industries.


Here’s Nathaniel showing us around the cabin, where the Plastiki’s six- to eight-person crew will spend their time eating, working on the computer, socializing, cooking, and sleeping.

And here's Nathaniel testing out the bunks. A cozy squeeze, for sure.

This thoroughly modern expedition will allow you to experience the action in real time. You can follow the Plastiki’s epic trip across the Pacific as a fan on Facebook, Twitter, and the Plastiki’s official site. And if you’re in San Francisco, be sure to head down to Mission Control at Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can track the voyage with HP technology: maps, blueprints, films, and further chances to interact with the Plastiki team.


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