It’s July 2010, and Jo is sat in the Pacific on Plastiki, a boat built out of plastic bottles. As skipper she is responsible for the lives of 5 boys, and wondering whether they’d bitten off too much.
She is showing a video of the sea state – “big wave!” – and I’m feeling queasy just watching… and in awe of the seas, and of Jo and the crew for risking them.
Her dad left her in a dinghy at aged 7, and started a life-long love affair with the seas. Her journey towards Plastiki started on South Georgia. She took a moment by herself on the beach – it was stunningly beautiful, but then she saw the bright oranges, blues and greens of plastic.
Ever since she’s been questioning how the materials we produce and use daily impact the life of the sea. Plastic is the first man-made material that can’t be found in nature. And now we have pumped 8 billion tonnes into the sea, and nearly all of it is still there today – our geological legacy.
There are 11 gyres in the oceans, caused by currents and winds. And vast quantities of plastic can be found in the middle of these gyres. Sea birds choke on it, turtles are trapped in it. Tiny pieces of plastic sop up toxins, which get into the food chain.
We should stop thinking of plastic as throw-away, as it is almost, like diamonds, forever. We should consider the whole lifecycle of a material or product before we manufacture it.
Jo and the others in the Plastiki team thought that if they could build an up-cycled boat and sail it across the Pacific, then they could demonstrate other possibilities. The team collected 12,000 bottles from recycling centres to form the buoyancy. They also found SRPT, which could be used to bond the bottles together. It retains its properties in the reycling process, so could be used again to build another boat or a plane. It hadn’t been used before, so it was a big risk to sail out under the Golden Gate Bridge heading for Sydney.
The crew learnt a lot about the material: saw it expand and contract in the sun, and twist and reform in the waves. Plastiki was the first boat to be made of closed-loop plastic, and the project led to other inventions.
Jo has learnt to appreciate plastic’s material qualities. It’s our misunderstanding of the material that has led to the problems. Someone needs to take ownership. Big companies and curious minds need to get together to work out how to build closed-loop everyday products too.
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