British adventurer and bank dynasty heir David de Rothschild plans to sail from San Francisco to Australia--in a boat made from discarded soft-drink bottles.
No sharp epoxy smells greet us on San Francisco's Pier 31 when we go to visit de Rothschild on a sunny weekday afternoon. Instead, popping sounds from bottles being re-inflated echo like a huge popcorn machine in the northern end of a hangar. This is where the strange vessel, called "Plastiki," is being built.
In part of this hangar the size of a football field, 12,000 recycled bottles donated by the Waste Management company are being washed, cleaned, and pressurized for their new role--acting as flotation devices in the two pontoons of the 60-foot high-tech catamaran.
"If we really want to move from Planet 1.0 to Planet 2.0, we need to really start taking action and stop just talking," de Rothschild says as he arrives at the construction site.
The tall, bearded 30-year-old--a charismatic scion of the British Rothschild bank dynasty and the youngest British person to ever reach both the North and South poles--demands attention as he circles the busy site.
He runs the Adventure Ecology educational organization and is the mastermind behind the Plastiki project, which, among other things, aims to change people's perception of garbage. Today, most plastic bottles in the U.S. are not recycled, according to environmental organizations, and instead end up in the world's landfills and oceans.
"Thirty-nine billion plastic bottles are consumed in the U.S. every year," de Rothschild says. "Only 20 percent are recycled. Imagine what that is in terms of resources."
The lofty goal of a voyage to Australia has spurred a number of inventions. The skeletal hull, decks, and cabin of the boat, for example, are made of composite Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) plastic panels consisting of layers of self-reinforcing PET skins, a woven fabric made of reused plastic.
"What we have been exploring with is biocomposites, bioglues, biopolymers," de Rothschild says, "things that are not just going to be positive for this project, but have ongoing implications." … Read more