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Environment

Ship of plastic bottles completes Pacific voyage

The 'Plastiki' has been dubbed a message in a bottle. The ship is built from plastic bottles and has just completed a voyage across the Pacific to draw attention to the vast amount of plastic waste poisoning our seas.

The Plastiki boat sails near Sydney's famous opera house

Sydney is the Plastiki's final destination

The Plastiki, made from 12,500 plastic bottles, reached Sydney on Monday after just over four months at sea. Its journey began in San Francisco on March 20, carrying a six-member crew.

The purpose of the voyage was to raise environmental awareness, and the 18-meter-long boat's design reflected its goal. The ship's plastic bottles were connected using an ecologically friendly paste made from sugar and cashew nuts.

Scientists have already made alarming discoveries concerning the prevalence of plastic pollution in oceans, including a plastic heap in the Pacific that is now twice as large as the state of Texas in the US

"Plastic is about the biggest polluter we see when doing clean-up," said Daniela Muehlheim, who organizes efforts to clean marine debris with the AWARE Foundation.

The Plastiki sails beneath a blue sky near Fiji

The Plastiki's plastic bottles provide about 70% of the ship's buoyancy

Hard to measure

The Plastiki voyage's website cites a 1997 report in which plastics are estimated to make up most of the world's marine contamination, with plastic accounting for an average of 60 to 80 percent of water pollutants. But tracking plastic pollution in exact numbers is difficult given the vastness of the world's water supplies.

"There are a lot of different numbers out there," said Michael Herrmann, from PlasticsEurope, a trade association representing plastic manufacturers in Europe. "But regardless the level of pollution is unacceptable."

The problem lies not with plastic itself but rather with inadequate waste management programs in some parts of the world, Herrmann told Deutsche Welle.

"In Germany, for instance, we have a lot of experience with plastic disposal, and we don't have a problem with it - well over 90 percent of plastics in Germany get recycled," he said.

But the plastic industry's advocacy of recycling doesn't go far enough for Stefan Scheuer, a Chemical Safety Manager and Advisor to Greenpeace.

"With these questions, you should try to go as far upstream to the source as possible," Scheuer told Deutsche Welle.

"The problem originates with the increased use of plastic on behalf of companies - the primary and most important choice is to reduce the overall use of plastic."

Bottles and beyond

Plastic and other pollution washes up on the shore near a city

Plastic is a major contributor to the world's marine pollution


As for the Plastiki, more than just plastic bottles were reused to stay afloat. The ship is equipped with solar panels for power, systems that convert urine and rainwater into usable water and a sail made from recycled cloth.

But Plastiki voyage leader and environmental activist David de Rothschild agrees that recycling and reusing old materials isn't enough to address the problem.

"Basically we need to ban single-use plastics," Rothschild told the dpa news agency. "This is a needless problem that we can deal with. The plastic cup, the plastic bag, the styrene mug and lid - these are products that could be banned today."

That may be a tall order for a world that uses tens of millions of tons of plastic each year.

Author: Greg Wiser (dpa/AFP)
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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