Thursday, 17 June 2010

Plastiki: The vessel of awareness

For the past few months, I’ve been following the progress of Plastiki, and given the extent of media coverage (especially CNN), it is likely that my readers too may have read about it. For those that haven’t, read on….

Providing an image/diagram is a good technique of deepening understanding of a concept; providing a demonstration would complete the picture. And this is exactly what Plastiki does.

The unique Plastiki
Plastiki is the innovative result of the impact which UNEP’s report, on Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas’ (which presented the threats faced by marine biodiversity due to pollution, particularly by plastic wastes), had on eco-adventurer David de Rothschild. After months and years of brainstorming, Plastiki emerged - the 60 ft/18 m catamaran with a difference- manufactured mainly with solar energy and composed of 12500 reclaimed plastic bottles (about the same number of plastic bottles consumed every 8.3 seconds in the US) filled with CO2 to make her solid and consistent (and the bottles provide 68% of the buoyancy); structure made out of easily recyclable self-reinforced polyethylene terephthalate (srPET) called Seretex; sails made out of recycled PET; and recycled waste products. The catamaran is self-sustaining, using renewable energy systems (solar panels, wind and sea turbines, and a biodiesel engine to be used only in emergencies), and a vacuum water evaporator (for desalination). A bicycle generator, the ‘Human Dynamo bike’, provides exercise for the crew and also provides energy for the boat’s electrical systems.

The journey and aims
After setting off from San Francisco on March 20th, 2010, the six-man crew (including expedition leader de Rothschild) have explored many ecologically/environmentally important sites in the Pacific Ocean so as to provide more awareness on issues such as global warming and sea level rise (which poses a terrible threat to island nations), ocean acidification and damaged coral reefs, and marine pollution (especially by plastics). As of June 17th, they are south of Tuvalu and are en route for the final and most challenging leg towards Sidney, where the approximately 11,000-nautical mile expedition will conclude. So far, they have travelled for 90 days/2160 hours and 5785 nautical miles (and Plastiki helpfully adds that during this duration, 5400 million plastic bottles were used in the US alone!).

Plastiki’s mission is to raise awareness of environmental issues and the damage caused by ‘one-use culture’, and to enthuse individuals, communities, and businesses to find solutions to use waste as a valuable resource. Plastiki herself is an excellent example of how the discarded plastic bottles (usually meant to be a single use item, which we all use, and perhaps discard, everyday) can be utilised efficiently.

The plastic menace
Plastic is a huge menace (you may refer to my short summary on plastics and my longer essay on the effect of plastics in marine fauna in Our Gossamer Planet) since most are not biodegradable and takes a long time to degrade. Even then, these disintegrated minute pieces of plastic cause problems, most notably by leaching chemicals into the environment. It is estimated that out of approximately 100 million tonnes of plastic produced per annum, 10% ends up in the oceans- hardly surprising since 60-80% of total marine pollution is due to plastics (the UN had estimated that every square mile of the world’s ocean has approximately 46,000 minute floating pieces of plastic). But, the devastating effects of plastics in the ocean are no different from what happens on land: hundreds of thousands of marine fauna (including fishes, birds, turtles, and mammals) tends to mistakenly ingest these or gets entangled, resulting in death or poisoning. This, in turn, affects the biodiversity and the entire system.

Plastiki’s insights
Plastiki has also shed more light on the ‘garbage patch’, a subsurface sea of waste with mass of 3 ½ tonnes and about five times the size of the UK, floating in the North Pacific gyre between California and Hawaii. de Rothschild related of how Plastiki’s hull was covered with a fine, extra layer of plastic fragments. But more interestingly, the crew states that they have seen more plastic than fish during their journey so far, having caught three fishes and haven’t seen any sharks- a far cry from the Kon-Tiki expedition of Thor Heyerdahl, 40 years ago, when the crew caught fresh fish every day and could not enter the water fearing sharks.

Plastiki’s website is definitely worth visiting- with lots of interesting facts, photos, blogs, and videos, apart from live tracking and up-to-date information. MyPlastiki also allows visitors to make a pledge to better our oceans and planet by not using plastic bottles, bags, and styrene foams. The number of pledges, however, is quite disappointing - plastic bottles (1698 pledges), plastic bags (1589 pledges), styrene foams (1413 pledges), and all three (1143 pledges).

What we can do
But may be there is no need to be disappointed- each individual’s wholehearted actions can make a great effect, more so if the same is communicated to their peers and communities. Humans can exist by reducing or replacing (with ecofriendly alternatives) their usage of plastic bottles, plastic bags, and styrene foams (particularly the single use disposable types). One good method for an ecofriendly living is to follow the 4Rs- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink, and ultimately 2Rs- Replace and Refuse.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

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