A Q&A With Plastiki Adventurer David de Rothschild On The WHOLE WORLD Water Campaign

Three years ago, adventurer, entrepreneur and activist David de Rothschild sailed from San Francisco to Sydney on a catamaran made of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles.

His goal with the Plastiki project was to bring awareness to environmental issues like global warming and plastic pollution, and he has continued to stay active in the environmental movement. Most recently, de Rothschild signed on as an advisor to WHOLE WORLD Water, a three-year campaign that aims to unite the hospitality and tourism industry to combat global clean water issues.

Launched on March 22 to coincide with World Water Day, WHOLE WORLD Water uses a social enterprise model to generate funds for the clean water movement. The process of signing on is relatively simple. First, hotels and restaurants sign on to the WHOLE WORLD Water campaign for a nominal per-property fee. Then, they use the suggested Vivreau water filtration system to filter, bottle and sell their own water to guests. Finally, they donate 10 percent of the proceeds to the WHOLE WORLD Water fund, which benefits safe, sustainable clean water projects in the places that need it most.

Founders Karena Albers and Jenifer Willig estimate that if the world’s three largest hotel groups joined the campaign and sold just one bottle of water per day, the campaign could raise up to $1 billion for its mission, while contributing up to 25 percent toward the company’s bottom line. The campaign has already signed on a number of well-known hotel groups, including Virgin, Dusit and Banyan Tree, along with a number of restaurants, nightclubs and Ritz Carlton properties. Advisors include high-profile names like Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson, designer Yves Behar, actor and filmmaker Edward Norton and de Rothschild.

In an email exchange, de Rothschild shared with Gadling what sailing the Plastiki taught him about the world’s water supply, why he decided to sign onto the WHOLE WORLD Water campaign and what travelers can do to get on board.

What did sailing the Plastiki teach you about the world’s water supply?

What the Plastiki taught me is sometimes it’s just as important to unlearn as it is to learn. We had to unlearn that it wasn’t all plastic that was the issue, but rather dumb uses of the material. And more importantly it was about redefining the story we tell ourselves about the value of the material – moving it away from valueless to valuable. That in turn will then have an influence over how we use and reuse. I believe the same applies to water issues; we all have to start to leave behind the concept that we have an endless supply of water, if we are to have any chance of creating a future.

Why did you decide to sign on to the WHOLE WORLD Water Campaign?

I can’t see any reason not to! I have been working for a while now to ban plastic straws across the world of hospitality so this seems like an easy and logical extension.

Why tackle hospitality of all industries?

Has to be a whole system approach to have an impact!

What will the WHOLE WORLD Water campaign achieve that other water campaigns haven’t?

That’s yet to be seen, but I have no doubt with such a great team behind the campaign it will produce something positive!

What can travelers do to support the efforts of the WHOLE WORLD Water Campaign?

Just say no to plastic water bottles! And encourage establishments that you come into contact with who haven’t engaged to sign up!

[Photo Credit: WHOLE WORLD Water]

Ship made of plastic bottles completes trans-Pacific voyage

Way back in March we told you about the Plastiki, a ship made almost entirely out of plastic bottles, that was setting out from San Francisco to complete a crossing of the Pacific Ocean. The plan was for the ship, and her crew, to sail to Sydney, Australia, by way of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in an effort to raise awareness of the impact that we are having on the Earth’s environment, most notably the oceans. Yesterday, after spending 128 days at sea, and covering more than 8300 nautical miles, the Plastiki sailed into Sydney Harbor, completing her voyage at last.

The ship is the brain child of explorer and environmentalist David de Rothschild, who came up with the idea to build a boat out of plastic bottles more than four years ago. At times, de Rothschild, who is the founder of Adventure Ecology, wondered if he would ever see his dream become reality, but eventually construction of the boat commenced, and the project began to take shape. When it was finally finished, the Plastiki had more than 12,500 bottles incorporated into its hull, not to mention a host of other environmentally friendly gadgets like solar panels and wind generators, added to its final design.

One of the main missions of the expedition was to visit the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge collection of garbage that has accumulated in a single place in the Pacific Ocean. The GPGP is estimated to be larger than the state of Texas and continuing to grow all the time, as more and more waste is dumped into the ocean and ends up deposited in this strange gyre. The Patch is a testament to the damage that is being done to the environment and was quite a sobering sight to the crew of the ship.

Joining de Rothschild on the voyage were Skipper Jo Royle, Co-Skipper David Thomson, and the rest of the crew which consisted of Olav Heyerdahl, Graham Hill, Luca Babini, Matthew Grey, Max Jourdan, Singeli Agnew and Vern Moen. Well done crew!

[Photo credit: The Plastiki via Flickr]

Message in a Bottle, w/ David de Rothschild

When Thor Heyerdahl sailed his balsa wood raft Kontiki across the Pacific Ocean, he was trying to prove that the settlement of the region emanated from South America; by contrast David de Rothschild’s boat the Plastiki – constructed solely from plastic bottles – is now a third of the way from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, attempting to draw the world’s attention to the fact that the same ocean is now home not to exploring people but vast acres of man’s detritus. Below, as excerpted from OCEANS, The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide he comments on his journey.

There has never been a better example of using adventure to inspire, engage and change perceptions of an existing reality than Thor Heyerdahl’s exploits in the South Pacific. In 1947 the Norwegian adventurer set out to prove that pre-Colombian indigenous people from South America could have populated the Polynesian islands by migrating- no fewer than 4,300 miles- by boat. Heyerdahl and his crew traveled to Peru, where they constructed a balsa wood raft using only those materials and knowledge that would have been available before European influence. Six adventurers clambered aboard the boat they called Kontiki and sailed it across the Pacific to test Heyerdahl’s theory of oceanic migration.

The raft made it; his theory did not. But the Kontiki’s storyline created one of the most compelling and captivating adventures of the last century. It danced across the imaginations of multiple generations, sowing the sense of excitement and freedom that comes with following one’s dreams.

Heyerdahl’s adventure was sitting foremost in my mind in late 2006 as I struggled to come up with a compelling method to illustrate one of the most significant and unnecessary manmade environmental, and now health, issues of our time. There had to be a way to stem this plastic plague, a plague that’s ultimately been driven by our over consumption, miss-use, lack of recapture and inefficient design.

As I walked to the Adventure Ecology offices one morning, I was pondering the question: what do we have in our time that’s readily available, as plentiful as balsa wood, and could be used to construct a craft for a journey that would both highlight all the messages above and test a theory a la the Kontiki in the open ocean? The answer was literally at my feet. Plastic bottles.

Modern society produces piles upon piles of plastic bottles. And while the United States leads the world in the consumption of bottled water, it is truly a global phenomenon. According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, worldwide consumption reached forty-one billion gallons of water in 2004, an increase of fifty-seven percent in just five years. We chug and chuck, chug and chuck, day after day, month after month.

The plastic water bottle epitomizes the absurdity of our throwaway society. Each and every day, Americans consume 70 million bottles of water. That adds up to nearly nine billion gallons of water annually at a cost of approximately $11 billion; despite the fact that both the purity and taste of water flowing from the taps in our homes and workplaces is of equal or better quality. An even crueler irony is that according to the nonprofit research organization Pacific Institute it takes two liters of water to manufacture a one-liter plastic bottle. And the energy used during the life cycle of a single-use plastic bottle – from making the bottle itself to filling, shipping, chilling, and finally disposing of it – is equivalent to filling it one-quarter full with oil. Far from being “natural” or even virtuous, as many consider it, bottled water is the poster child for wasteful indulgence.

So the next step in thinking was logical. We need to re-design, re-value, reduce, reuse, and ultimately rethink our use of plastic so that it can contribute to solutions rather than compounding the problems. And with a respectful nod to the Kontiki and its audacious, attention-grabbing voyage, the Plastiki expedition was born!

The goal started out as sailing across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Sydney, to bring a global spotlight on to the plight of our oceans and marine life at the hands of plastic debris. However realizing the enormity of the problem it became apparent that if our expedition was ever going to capture hearts and minds as well as foster the creation of solutions we couldn’t just sail on any old vessel.

To this end a simple yet compelling concept was developed: construct a boat entirely out of two-liter plastic bottles, recycled waste products and innovative materials. We thought that if Plastiki could showcase smart designs that rethink the waste polluting our seas as a resource, not only a la Heyerdahl, the vessel could garner media attention on behalf of our imperiled oceans but the project would be an opportunity to develop solutions that could help to revaluate waste materials, like how we use them, what we use them for, and most importantly our disposing of them. We were hoping for a good chance to finally stem the rising tide of plastics.