July 31, 2010

David de Rothschild sails the Plastiki.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of plastic.

Well David de Rothschild, founder of Adventure Ecology, has found a way to make plastic work. After being inspired by a United Nations Environment Programme report, de Rothschild had the idea to build the world’s first boat made completely of recycled plastic bottles and calling her Plastiki.

The Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran made of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles, is named after the Kon-Tiki— the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer, Thor Heyerdahl, in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific.

The project’s purpose-to raise awareness about the condition of our oceans and see first hand humankind’s impact. One of David’s other important objectives is

“looking at waste as an issue and waste in our oceans and its consequences.”

It happened to be four years to that fateful day of coming up with concept of the Plastiki, when David and I had the chance to talk. He was on the final leg of trip across the Pacific-from San Francisco to Sydney.

How is the trip going at this point?

“We’re moving along nicely. Sometimes a little bit slower than we’d like. Plastiki is pioneering the slow travel movement (jokingly). We’re setting an example that it’s about the adventure. It’s not about getting from point a to point b. Slow travel also means less of an impact on the environment”.

The effects of a consumerism based society

“We’re told that we’re not happy unless we’re purchasing, consuming and throwing away. It’s a detriment to the environment, our natural resources and to our mental state. We’ve become be indebted, because we can’t keep up with it.”

“As a society, we are trying to consume as much as we can. Bigger and faster somehow equals better. The ecological apocalypse going on in the Gulf of Mexico makes it crazy to see how we’ve become so attached to these wasteful items. We chase after finite, toxic, expensive, smelly, and hard to reach energy sources. We don’t follow what nature is trying to show us. The best sources of energy come free and clean- the sun, ocean, hydro, tidal, geothermal. We’ve gone down this path that we’ve trodden for so long. And now we’re indebted to that path. My thought is let’s create system change.”

Changing our use and production of plastic

“Plastic is the most ubiquitous thing on the planet. We messed around with it. Created a product that will last forever. People will eventually end up hitting a wall. Which I think we’ve done. We’re looking at the fact that plastic will always be here. So, how do we dispose of it? Design for it? How to manufacture it better? That’s the thing. Creating a better understanding and impact of the products we design. All we really need is a reevaluation and start producing differently.”

Green business

“Businesses have this idea that it’s not in their interest to slow down and lessen their impact on the environment. I’m hoping to make them see the error in their thinking.” (But what they don’t realize is that they will save on costs and actually make more profit by going green. The market is showing the demand is there. Organic products sales have increased by 6.2 billion in 2009. Sales were 26.4 billion in 2007. An increase of 17.1%)

On politics to inspire change

“It seems like Obama just got in and here already has to start electioneering and worry about getting re elected. So you obviously get very reactive politics and policies. Who knows if there was an election today, how what’s going on in the Gulf would affect people’s decisions. Unfortunately it shows that it takes a tragedy like this to re think our treatment of nature. I see natural disasters as kind of defibrillator. Sometimes that’s what we need to wake us up. But this can be too late. “

Plastiki’s goals

“Hopefully, Plastiki is inspiring people to think outside of the box and give them an opportunity to figure out solutions. Hopefully, Plastiki is helping people to connect to out of sight out of mind issues. The ocean has been voiceless for so long. It’s only been in the last year or so, that there’s more awareness and information out there. The movies- The Cove and Ocean are examples of this. We’ve got a chance now to show people how remarkable this part of our planet is.”

Making oceans a priority in research

“Billions of dollars is being spent to get to Mars, asteroids. and other research and very little is known about our own oceans. We are destroying it. There’s the plastic gyres. Exploitation of resources. Over fishing. Mostly because most people never see it, never connect with it. Most of the time, when you say plastic is ending up in our oceans. People, who aren’t seeing it, don’t really get it. That has nothing to do with me. I’m landlocked. I have nothing to do with it. So why should I care? This is where we have to start emphasizing the health consequences. The increased toxicity in our waters.”

Health impact to motivate

“People are more emotionally connected to it, if it’s health related instead of environmentally related. We don’t have a sustainable world with out an educated world. We don’t have sustainable world with out a healthy world. We’re all interdependent. This is sort of how I got in to what I’m doing now. I trained as a naturopath and have been doing a lot with organics since then. You are what eat and breathe. How important it is to the survival to us and the planet. The health consequences of the pollution in our oceans.” I chimed in here that I see first hand in my clinic these consequences and they’re only increasing- increased cancer rates, thyroid disorders, infertility, mercury poisoning, and autoimmune disorders.

“What’s in it for me? I want to look after myself first? I can make a lot of money. I think we can learn from the food movement. We can use this integrating into our messaging. We’re running this perilous path, assuming nature can easily recover.”

How environmentalists can inspire others

“Don’t lecture. Allow people the chance to make informed to decisions. People will say, ‘I now know this, so I want to do this’.”

The interview occurred on day 55 of the Gulf oil spill. This tragedy has me and many people feeling hopeless in regards to saving our planet. I asked David how he stays positive and driven. “I have days where I’m feeling hopeless. It’s about realizing I’ll have bad days, but they’re balanced by getting great feedback. Like today, I spoke with 200 kids in Texas who have taken recycled and reclaimed plastic bottles and created insulation. These children are part of the solution. When you read and connect to people like that, it can keep you going.”

“We’re using Plastiki as a metaphor. What is your Plastiki? How can you have an impact? It allows people to be more aware of what is going on around them. Things can change quickly. I know things are moving slowly right now, but it’s shifting. We need to figure how to make our message more impactful and get people more connected with the issues. We need to hear more of the good news and focus on that.”

What he is going to do differently after this trip?

“Be more aware. Live off the grid more. Buying less stuff, reducing packaging, being less wasteful, and cooking more, especially with locally grown produce. Continue to lessen my footprint- Educate myself and others.”

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.

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.

Live natural. Live well.

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