Can we rethink & redesign our Addiction to Plastic? Stories from Plastiki

“You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something you need to build a new model that makes the existing obsolete” (Buckminster Fuller).

That was the concluding quote from Friday night’s speaker Jo Royle, the female skipper of the Plastiki Boat.

Our urban lifestyle has detrimental impacts on the sea. 72% of the earth’s surface is ocean and 250 million tonnes of plastic is floating around in the ocean. We heard from Jo, as we heard from Manda Brookman the day before, plastic never bio-degrades it just breaks into smaller pieces of plastic.

So, as Jo asked “Will plastic be our geological legacy?” 

The Plastiki expedition was undertaken to:

  1. Raise awareness about our addiction to plastic
  2. Find solutions and to work quantifiably for long term solutions

as well as to discuss our relationship with plastic:

  1. Reducing the amount of ‘single use plastic’ such as water bottles, cocoa-cola bottles and plastic shopping bags
  2. Rethinking our use, and waste, of plastic products.

Jo explained that plastic is not the ‘villain’ we just need to think differently. For example we now buy and like toothbrushes with lots of different types and colours of plastics e.g. multicoloured and multi faceted with grips and ‘add-ons’. Jo explained that there are 150 chemicals in the average toothbrush. Jo asked us “why don’t we go to toothbrush producers and ask them how they could be redesigned to use less plastic?” for example a toothbrush handle that lasts forever with changeable bristles?  In the UK as an example of 25% of plastic is recycled most of which is recycled into packaging and carpets.

Jo explained the importance of ‘closed loop’ systems:

  1. Creating a product
  2. Using it for its whole life-span
  3. Recycling it

Plastiki is a 60-foot catamaran made out of 12,000 reclaimed plastic bottles filled with dry-ice and other recycled PET plastic and waste products. The craft was built using cradle to cradle design philosophies and features many renewable energy systems, including solar panels, wind and trailing propeller turbines, and bicycle generators. On March 20, 2010, the sailing vessel set off from San Francisco, California to cross the Pacific Ocean with a crew of six: British skipper Jo Royle, co-skipper David Thompson, expedition diver Olav Heyerdahl, filmmakers Max Jourdan and Vern Moen, and expedition leader David de Rothschild. Plastiki arrived in Sydney Harbour on July 26, 2010.

The Plastiki team set themselves objectives such as

  • Finding the most sustainable and smart way to make a boat
  • Using new technology to make the environmental footprint less

Solar – ‘Backyards inventors’ came with their solutions and ideas and they were used.

Human power – Fun items such as the music system ran on ‘bicycle power’ … the team kept fit but also benefitted from hearing their favourite music!

Vertical garden – The boat even had a garden growing 98 varieties of veggies so that the team could have fresh veg everyday but also, as an experiment to test growing vegetables in saline environments.

Food – the team canned their own cheese, stews and dried vegetables before setting sail. There was no pre-packaged food on-board. If it was someone’s birthday they were allowed to fish and the fish was canned on the same day, at sea, for future meals.

The Plastiki team, and its corporate sponsors, have used the expedition to change behaviour and to identify solutions. For example Jo explained that Nike are working on the low impact trainers with low use of plastic, that Harken have banned single use plastic in their business and Kiehl’s have developed soap that is kind to the sea.

Jo says that many global companies are unclear about how to reduce and remove plastic from their business and their products. These people need the “power of the people” – we need to work with them, not against, them to find solutions and alternatives so that we can all help reduce the sheer volumes plastic in our cities and in our oceans. When we make purchases we need to think:

  • Is this the best way to buy this?
  • Is this the best product to buy?

And finally we need to consider Government legislations for example could Governments  just ban Styrofoam if we had found an alternative?

Jo is “Fab in the Lab” today for leaving us with a closing comment “The most important thing is how we rethink and redesign”