Plastiki: Sailing Across the Sea of Plastic on Recycled Bottles

David de Rothschild (left) with MNN's own Josh Dorfman (right) on his hit show 'The Lazy Environmentalist.'. (Photo: dreamymo [CC by ND-2.0]/Flickr)

Adventurer/banking heir/environmentalist David de Rothschild is setting off on a new adventure this year to bring attention to the ecological disaster that is the Pacific Ocean Plastic Gyre.

There is literally a sea of soupy plastic larger than the continental United States in the Pacific Ocean between Califorinia and Japan. Ocean currents swirl in a giant whirlpool that collects floating plastic and aggregates it in the middle.

Plastic does not biodegrade. Every piece of plastic that humanity has ever made is still somewhere in the environment. Some of it is buried in landfills, some is recycled back into the system, but a lot ends up in the oceans. Rivers and streams pick up litter and deposit it at their terminus in the sea, wind picks up plastic wrappers and bags and blows them into the ocean.

When some plastics are left in the sun and sea for long they do break down, but not in a biodegradable way — they just become smaller pieces of plastic. If anything, this is a more dangerous form of plastic because it's just about impossible to clean up. Researches have studied water taken from the plastic gyre and found that microscopic pieces of plastic outnumbered plankton, the base of the sea web of life, 48 to 1. Let me say that again — there is forty eight times more microscopic pieces of plastic thank plankton in a huge swath of the Pacific Ocean.

de Rothschild will sail 7,500 miles from San Francisco to Syndey, Australia, in a boat made entirely of recycled materials, including 20,000 plastic water bottles. In a nod to writer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his raft the Kon-Tiki, which sailed across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian Islands, de Rothschild is naming his boat the Plastiki.

de Rothchild is following on the heels of adventurers Markus Eriksen and Joel Paschal who completed a similar trip last from California to Hawaii. Their boat used 15,000 plastic bottles and the reused cockpit of a Cessna.

He will set sail from San Francisco in March.