Every so often, I come across a plastics-related idea that's so ridiculous I try to ignore it, rather than sharing it with Plastics News readers.
The “Recycled Island” is just such an idea.
You may have seen stories on this project. Whim Architecture, a Dutch firm, has suggested using plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean to create a massive floating island. The island would use about 100 million pounds of plastic waste to create 3,861 square miles of “sustainable living space” where islanders could live on fishing and agriculture. The aim is to create a floating environment for 500,000 people, powered by solar energy and wave motion.
When I first saw news reports about Recycled Island in June, I tried my best to ignore them. Seriously, no one is going to use recycled plastic to build a 3,861-square-mile island for 500,000 people in the Pacific Ocean. This is not the answer to the plastics industry's marine debris problem — it's a pipe dream.
But the project continues to generate headlines around the world. So I'm going on the record and saying — enough. Please.
To help support my case — that Recycled Island should be known as Ridiculous Island — consider a recent blog post from Miriam Goldstein, a doctoral student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Goldstein notes that there are a number of issues with the “rather romantic” plan.
“The main problem is this: The vast majority of plastic bits (greater than 90 percent) are smaller than a pencil eraser, and are spread out enough to be mostly invisible to the naked eye. It is therefore extremely hard to remove the plastic without catching a lot of ocean life,” Goldstein wrote.
“The ‘Recycled Island' folks may be able to build a giant island out of recycled plastic — I am not an architect and I have no idea if this is feasible. (Though I hope they know that there are hurricanes in the Central Pacific.) But I do know that it would be very, very difficult to remove a significant percentage of the plastic without catching a ton of zooplankton. And catching and killing tons of marine life would not be a good way to meet the criteria of the project.”
Remember, the criterion is to save marine life.
“So to summarize, I do not think Recycled Island is feasible because it would be environmentally damaging to collect enough plastic in the North Pacific Central Gyre to build their enormous island,” she wrote.
Projects like Recycled Island may help focus attention on the marine debris problem, which could be a good thing. But there's also a risk that some sector of the public will think, “Hey, we don't need to worry about this anymore, because I read a story about some Dutch conservationists building an island with all of our plastic waste.”
Creating an island out of recycled plastic may be “romantic,” but so is chasing windmills. The real solution to the marine debris problem is to stop creating marine debris.
Loepp is PN managing editor and author of “The Plastics Blog.”