Environmental Stupidity

By: Grainne Rhuad

Our story begins at The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  An area of water larger the size of Texas, where all the plastic detritus of our daily lives ends up; some estimations have it larger than the state of Texas, it’s hard to measure due to the fact that it is too deep to measure and the detritus is too small to get an accurate measurement.    It is pulled there by the ocean currents, and there it stays.   Things like water bottles, plastic toys from Happy Meals, six pack loops, and countless plastic garbage washed off of boats during storms or from mere carelessness.

This gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N. was predicted by oceanographers far in advance of its discovery; however it was discovered by Charles J. Moore, returning home through the North Pacific Gyre after competing in the Transpac sailing race in 1997. He was so gobsmacked by the sheer mass of it that he has now made it his life work to educate the public about it. He has written a book, participated in documentaries, gone on lecture circuit and been instrumental in bringing the result of our waste to our attention.

While this has been widely covered, this story is not about the findings in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is about another man’s quest to cash in on his 15 min of fame due to the Patch.

David de Rothschild captain of the Plastiki also has a mission.  His dream; to teach us all about waste by building a ship out of plastic bottles and sailing it in the name of cleaning up the ocean. The sailing vessel made up of 12,000 bottles set sail from Sausalito on Saturday March 20th, with the goal to sail to Australia.  Scheduled are stops Hawaii, Tuvalu and Fiji on its way to Sydney, a trip estimated to take more than 100 days.

While on the surface this may seem like a noble cause, putting all those plastic bottles to use, it raises some environmental concerns of its own.

One of the things  Charles J. Moore  is very adamant about is we need to get back to using long lasting materials like glass and metals that do not deteriorate and hence can be re-used, rather than throw away goods.

In my mind this is a very good idea.  For one thing, anyone who has ever gone beach combing knows that glass lost at sea comes back to us beautiful, almost a treasure.  It is also incidentally made from sand, the same thing you find on the beach.  It doesn’t break down and release chemicals into the ocean disrupting marine life.

This chemical break down is one of the big problems with our plastic, almost island.  It steals oxygen from the water and poisons both animal and plant.  On a recent trip to Monterey Bay Aquarium I had the opportunity to sit with a researcher and ask in what ways our waste is affecting the Monterey Bay.  What I was told was that while some things such as wood and tires provide homes for marine life.  They have been noting a problem with shell mollusks.  They are unable to build their shells due to the lack of calcium.  Hence they have noticed a dropping off in the population of shellfish.

The Plastiki, this vessel boasts a hull of recycled plastic water and soda bottles, the vessel is made of a hardened plastic called PET. It is designed to make its own electricity using solar and the plastic bottles are shored up with carbon dioxide from dry ice which is then resealed before being used in construction.

Now, carbon dioxide itself is somewhat of a problem for the environment.  It helps create a greenhouse effect.  On the flip side plants use it for food and recycle it into clean air for us.  However there are fewer plants at sea and they are all on the bottom.  Rothschild’s answer for this, build a garden on his boat. According to Rothschild only an estimated 10% new materials were used in the design of the boat.

Rothschild states “We could potentially put together a boat that costs a fraction of what normal conventional boats are made of,” he said. “The idea is to take the Plastiki, break it down [after the voyage], and put it back into the system. So, it may come out being a jacket, a bag, and more bottles. It’s infinitely recyclable.”

The ultimate goal of the Plastiki voyage is not just to encourage people to embrace clean, renewable energy but also to see consumer waste as a potential resource.

That’s what this is all about — showcasing cradle-to-cradle products rather than cradle-to-grave,” de Rothschild said.

He also plans to compost all their waste and use an incinerating toilet.  If all this sounds like a bomb waiting to go off, that’s because it is.

One of the glaring problems with an endeavour of this kind is it tends to enable human beings in their use of disposable goods.  It gives us permission to continue using plastic in this way instead of turning to more durable options.  After all, our nicely packaged water bottles could become an ultra cool boat.  Right?

Rothschild is not alone in his publicity stunt using garbage; of late it has become incredibly hip to build things out of waste.  Mock up Mayan Temples, sculptures, even in some super silly cases homes.

While all of this is good fun, one can’t help but wonder why aren’t we talking about eliminating waste?  That’s the ideal that Charles J. Moore is presenting and I think it is a better one.  Buy quality items that will last, things we don’t have to throw away.  Rather than looking at “cradle to cradle” as Rothschild would have us do, we should be looking at generation to generation.  Stop being as concerned about disposability and start being concerned about the sustainability of our Big Blue Marble.

12 Comments on “Environmental Stupidity”

  1. Buying quality things that will last is not only environmentally sound, but frugal. This buy and dispose economy is a blight to society and is destructive to the planet. Much beauty and historical relevance has been lost due to this attitude. Corporations prefer to demolish ornate buildings and throw up a prefabricated replacement rather than repair the old structures. True, it’s easier, but easy isn’t always the best course of action.

  2. Nice article. What an idiotic way to try to raise awareness about environmental issues…by doing something that contributes to environmental degredation. I have an idea. When that guys stupid ass boat gets demolished my the mighty Pacific I say we make him clean up the giant plastic trash heap in the pacific. In a boat that he has to sail and is made out of bamboo.

  3. While recycling plastics does have a certain amount of appeal; especially when you take a good look around you and notice just how many things are made of plastic; as you observed, there are a few risks involved. When enough plastics are compiled and left long enough to begin leaching gasses, the risks of explosions increase. Mexico City has an enormous, open dump. Between the dioxide poisoning given off by compiled plastic, and the methane gas of decomposing biological matter, you have a twenty mile radius of toxins so great, if you journey by highway past the dump, you have to cover your face. Despite its noxious fumes, squatters live all around the border area of this giant land fill. Each year, an average of a hundred people or so die from the spontaneous combustion of built up gasses.

    One little side note. You mentioned that the shellfish were depleting from a lack of calcium. This makes me wonder if cremation is such a good idea after all. Maybe we should start having more burials at sea so the shellfish will have something to chew on. We’re wasting our bones with their precious calcium supplies by incinerating them.

  4. it just isn’t gonna happen, we are addicted to “cheap” and convenient … why hasn’t the food and commercial sales industry banned those plastic bags ?? making everyone bring their own transport container .. we don’t, as a species, give a shit … this should not be a choice, it should be mandated by BIG GOVERNMENT. Big oil might not like it, Republicans may not like it, leadership has to be pro-active to have any impact. Why hasn’t the United Nations sent ships to that spot in the Pacific and begun cleaning it all up, because it is in the middle of the biggest ocean on the planet, and like racism and poverty and fanaticism and abuse and hunger and worldwide child labor, we are trained not to respond to anything that makes us uncomfortable …. destroying the planet, just another shameful thing we assume is our right …

  5. By far the most concise and up to date information I found on this topic. Sure glad that I navigated to your page by accident. I’ll be subscribing to your feed so that I can get the latest updates. Appreciate all the information here

  6. Very good job, Grainne. Makes you wonder just what green companies are worth supporting in the first place.

  7. The really sad thing about this heap of trash..erm I mean boat…is if the weather start getting rough on this “three hour tour” they aren’t ending up on an uncharted desert isle; They’ll be depositing a boatload of more platic shite into the sea. Good Job Greenies!!!

    If they do make it home they will disassemble and sell t-shirts and bathmats made of the Plasticki for over $100.00 I have no doubt..dumn, and dumber will rush to buy them.

    I don’t think Big Government is necessarily the answer. There are quite a few cities at least in California who have banned using plastic bags altogether and others that charge an extra fee to cover recycling. In areas where that isn’t occuring stores are offerering discounts to bring your own bags, the pocketbook is where most Americans vote anyway.

    As far as clean-up of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I didn’t cover this because it has been so extensively covered already. However, the difficulty is the most dangerous of plastics and styrophome are broken down to levels where they cannot be seen by the naked eye but are making an impact on the environment. Another problem is animal life is beginning to use the plastic as a home making it in effect a reef. My idea was to sink planters and make a floating island like unto what the Aztecs did in Mexico City. If anyone decides to do that I expect them to work my name into the island somehow.

  8. [quote=Rich in PA]it just isn’t gonna happen, we are addicted to “cheap” and convenient … why hasn’t the food and commercial sales industry banned those plastic bags ?? making everyone bring their own transport container .. we don’t, as a species, give a shit … this should not be a choice, it should be mandated by BIG GOVERNMENT.[/quote]

    Government will do no such thing – even if the public did trust them with the power to create such a mandate, all they would use it for would be to ensure that the oil companies paid them more money in “campaign contributions” (read: bribes) in order for them to *not* use that power…

  9. In many countries the people bring their own grocery carriers or pay a nominal price for paper or plastic to carry them in. It’s not mandated by the government. The grocers see it as part of their costs to provide this service and pass the cost on to the customer. Rather than constantly pay a few extra cents every time they receive a fresh bag, the incentive becomes very great for the customer to carry their own.

  10. I think your negative critique of Plastiki is a bit uninformed inflammatory. The Plastiki project is well though out from an environmental and educational perspective. The vessel features many new materials, exhibits re-use of already existing resources (yes plastic bottles), design innovations and is properly aimed at bringing attention to the plastic ocean issue and creative ways to depart from our plastic ways. You should probably do more research on the project before so eloquently calling it “stupid”.

  11. @Sweet Durian, thank you, the article was meant to be inflamitory,it is however in no way uninformed. I hope people reading will be inspired to go check out the Plasticki for themselves.

    It is the “many new materials” that concerns me. Making more things for the sole purpose of bringing awareness to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch smells to me like marketing. I don’t see how making boats out of plastic helps us depart from our plastic use. In fact a lot of the plastic on this project was newly manufactured. How is that making a change? The very process of creating plastic is bad for the environment. But that is just me… I believe in making good solid things that last rather than finding a fashionable way to continue being wasteful.

  12. i know this is not exactly on topic, but i have a blog using the blogengine platform as well and i’m having issues with my comments displaying. is there a setting i am forgetting? maybe you could help me out? thank you.

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