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Billionaire Eco-Explorer David de Rothschild's Vision: Turn the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into Habitable Island


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast vortex of plastic trash that spans hundreds of miles northwest of Hawaii, has gotten lots of attention ever since billionaire adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild announced his plans to visit the trash mass on the Plastiki, a boat constructed from recycled waste and webs of plastic. Now the Plastiki has launched, and a group of architects from Rotterdam have already come up with a plan to covert the gyre into a Hawaii-sized island made entirely out of recycled plastic.

The entire project aims to focus global awareness on the thoughtless, unnecessary damage plastic inflicts on the world’s oceans. And potentially guide people towards more constructive ways to re-use plastic.

“What I hope that the Plastiki does and what we stand for is not about vilifying people, pointing fingers or just articulating problems,” de Rothschild told Circle of Blue in October. “We are about challenging that thinking.”

The UN Environment Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter in every square mile of ocean, and a swirling vortex of trash twice the size of Texas has spawned in the North Pacific.

Plastic bags, once icons of customer convenience, cost more than 1.6 billion barrels of oil per year and leave the environment to foot the bill. Each year the world produces 500 billion bags, and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. They take up space in landfills, litter our streets and parks, pollute the oceans and kill the wildlife that eat them.

Sadly, marine researcher Charles Moore at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach says there’s no practical fix for the problem. He has been studying the massive patch for the past 10 years, and said the debris is to the point where it would be nearly impossible to extract.

"Any attempt to remove that much plastic from the oceans - it boggles the mind," Moore said from Hawaii, where his crew is docked. "There's just too much, and the ocean is just too big."

The trash collects in this remote area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, due to a clockwise trade wind that encircles the Pacific Rim. According to Moore the trash accumulates the same way bubbles clump at the center of hot tub.

Ian Kiernan, the Australian founder of Clean Up the World, started his environmental campaign two decades ago after being shocked by the incredible amount of rubbish he saw on an around-the-world solo yacht race. He'll says he’ll never be able the wipe the atrocious site from his memory.

"It was just filled with things like furniture, fridges, plastic containers, cigarette lighters, plastic bottles, light globes, televisions and fishing nets," Kiernan says. "It's all so durable it floats. It's just a major problem."

Recycled Island is a research project on the potential of realizing a habitable floating island in the Pacific Ocean made from all the plastic waste that is momentarily floating around in the ocean. The proposal has three main aims; Cleaning our oceans from a gigantic amount of plastic waste; Creating new land; And constructing a sustainable habitat. Recycled island seeks the possibilities to recycle the plastic waste on the spot and to recycle it into a floating entity. The constructive and marine technical aspects take part in the project of creating a sea worthy island.

It sounds crazy--and maybe it is--but Rothcild's idea makes sense. The biggest concentration of plastic in the ocean has a footprint as large as France and Spain combined. That means there is plenty of plastic already floating around to make an island. And wouldn't it be nice to provide future climate change refugees with a new sustainable home? Not that anyone would necessarily want to live on a hunk of floating plastic, but the idea of taking trash and turning it into something useful is always thought-provoking.


De Rothschild has made a career of exploring ecological challenges, and using his wealth to popularize environmental issues. The youngest heir to the fortune of one of Europe’s oldest and most respected banking families, he journeyed across Antarctica and explored the Greenland ice cap to witness the consequences of climate change firsthand. In 2005 he launched Adventure Ecology, an organization and a Web site that tracks his travels to inspire people to work for positive change for the planet.

His Pacific plastic bottle mission is a way of reconnecting life style choices to nature, an idea that has become his mantra.

Follow the Plastiki’s progress at the Plastiki Expedition Web site. To read more about the de Rothschild expedition, please see Circle of Blue’s earlier de Rothschild coverage.

Sources: Plastiki Control Center,


Environmentalist David de Rothschild? Excuse me!? He uses the CO2-panic to make money to fill his countless bank-accounts. It is his newest scam. He is many things, but neither an environmentalist nor a philantropist.
Google his name and you find out the whole story of one of the richest men on earth from the most power-hungry family ever existed.

How is that much plastic getting in our oceans anyway?

Are cruise ships dropping it there or are countries illegally toting their garbage out to sea instead of starting landfills?

Science has already come up with a way to reconstitute the plastic back to fuel. Perhaps once oil costs high enough to make recovery feasible, we'll see supertankers with giant scoops recapturing that waste.

So, someone is trying to gain publicity and wealth by essentially making art out of trash floating in the ocean, yet that doesn't get rid of the fact that all of the plastic is STILL going to be in the ocean. And more importantly, it's not the plastic that we can see that threatens our ecosystem, it's the molecule sized bits that easily enter the food chain. The only way to rid ourselves of waste is to remove it from the Earth. Maybe we'll start chucking it into the Sun!

When I was a kid, plastic was still a chemistry experiment. We treasured old glass bottles, solid containers of all shapes and even paper bags because they were re-used when taken to the store, much like what some smaller stores do now. What is stopping the big chain stores from doing it? Why can´t we blacklist plastic bottles/containers/bags - to be never seen again - by 2015?

plastic fantastic floating inevitable.

Milkman hit the nail on the head. Go get the stuff and recycle it. Perhaps the day will come when ships pick the stuff up to use ON SITE for their own purposes.

Milkman hit the nail on the head. Go get the stuff and recycle it. Perhaps the day will come when ships pick the stuff up to use ON SITE for their own purposes.

Extremely nice post about "Billionaire Eco-Explorer David de Rothschild's Vision: Turn the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into Habitable Island".

someone is trying to gain publicity and wealth by essentially making art out of trash floating in the ocean,

The article and the comments are old, but some words to sources of marine debris/marine litter and why it is difficult to get out.

Where does it come from?
Marine litter has land-based and sea-based sources. Depending on the region it is more sea- or land-based one.
Plastic is dumped illegally by the crew of and tourists on ships. It is forbidden by the "Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution" for more than 20 years. There are no current statistics about how much litter is dumped from ships and by how many ships do it. Not only cargo ships and cruise liners are responsible for the litter. Also recreational sailors are expected to be partly responsible. It's not always done deliberately. E.g. someone looses his/her working glove.
Land-based litter is expected to be caused by tourists at beaches, by incomplete sewage water treatment, street-water run offs (if one throws his coffee-to-go-cut out of the car window), bad secured landfills and inland water vessels.
Exact numbers are not available (and depend strongly on the region).

Why stays it at sea?
Under normal environmental conditions plastic needs about 100 years for degradation (roughly). It does not vanish suddenly but breaks down in smaller an smaller pieces. If they are smaller than 3mm we call them "micro plastics". Some plastic pieces swim at the sea surface, some 50cm below and others sink to the seabed. If we catch the debris with nets, we catch many fish and smaller lifeforms. Especially catching micro plastics with nets is discussed by environmentalists and researchers. The research on the abundance and effect of micro-plastics is currently a hot research topic.

Here are some links:\

If you are interested in approaches form the politics look for "MARPOL 73/78" and "MSFD (Marine Strategie Framework Directive)". Also the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) does support some Projects regarding marine debris.

seems impractical. plastic does break down. i'm guessing you have never cleaned a north philadelphia vacant lot. if bpa leaches at a exponential rate, how do we know other chemical dont also leach and pose other serious illnesses? we dont. but i like where he is going; however, if he can afford to move it, why can't he afford to get it excavated?

This article was written 4 years ago. Has David de Rothschild done a damn thing to even research the project or was the idea a publicity stunt?

My bet - the latter.

Plastic should be made illegal! It is only a vehicle for the ultra rich that own so much to get richer by building things from plastic because it is a cheap source manufacturing material. Most people don't know bio-degradable plastics can be made from hemp fibers, so why not let farmers grow hemp again as they used to for commercial products. When I say hemp I'm talking about the kind that has so little of the high causing agents that it is not Marijuana, but I think they should legalize that as well because I'm one of those that thinks the only reason it is illegal is because they (gazillionairs) can't get a patent on it.

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