Recycled Plastic: Boats, Greenhouses, and More

A couple of weeks ago, I ran the book fair at my boys’ school. This is the fifth year I’ve been in charge of the fair, and the fifth year that I’ve brought home the plastic table cloths that are part of the fair kit I’m sent. They are in perfectly good condition, and I bring them home to use to cover table tops when the kids paint and find lots of other uses for them.

I’ve been seeing a lot of clever uses around the internet for used plastic lately, particularly plastic bottles. Have you seen any of these?

The Recycled Plastic Boat. David de Rothschild is trying to promote the importance of recycling. He’s constructing a 60 foot catamaran and planning to sail it across the Pacific in April. The aim of The Plastiki is to

captivate, inspire and activate tomorrow’s environmental thinkers and doers to take positive action for our Planet and to be smart with waste, ultimately we hope to inspire people to rethink waste as a valuable resource. One person’s waste could be another person’s treasure.

The Plastic Bottle Greenhouse. A public school group from Australia, ECO (Environmental Care Organisation) built an entire greenhouse out of 1,652 plastic bottles. A steel frame supports the structure and the bottles are threaded on pvc pipes. The greenhouse will help to enhance the school’s environmental education program.

The school won the Make a Difference competition run by radio station C91.3, which supported the project.

Mini Greenhouse. The greenhouse above is a pretty big undertaking, but one plastic bottle can be a green house by itself. A 2 liter soda bottle makes a perfect windowsill greenhouse and helps seedlings get a better start than just placing the pot on the windowsill by itself. Instructions for creating one can be found at allfreecrafts.com.

Plastic bottles are also being recycled into outdoor furniture, clothing, laptop bags, bird feeders, bags, and so much more. Plastic bottles are a reality. While it’s a good thing to try to create less of them, I don’t see them going away completely any time soon. Considering the fact that it’s estimated that it will take a plastic bottle 450 years to decompose (no one actually knows how long it will take because plastic hasn’t been around long enough to know), finding other uses for them is wise.

Images: The Plastiki: adventureecology.com; Bottle Greenhouse: Luke Fuda; Mini Bottle Greenhouse: allfreecrafts.com.

  1. Bobby B.

    Neat projects, but when I try looking through an environmentalist’s lenses I keep coming up with the following questions:

    1. If the greens do not care for loose plastic in the water, why would they support the recycling of waste plastic into a makeshift boat to travel upon the water? If it comes apart, the builder will be directly responsible for an environmental catastrophe.

    2. Knowing that the greens have been harping on the dangers of drinking from plastic bottles because of some unproven cancer risk, why would they approve of growing food in a greenhouse made from thousands of plastic bottles or growing it directly in a single plastic bottle? Is it suddenly acceptable that these children not only drink poison, but eat it too?

    I always have difficulties sorting out these “awareness” campaigns. Why is that when the greens take action, they participate in activities that seem to undercut their usual arguments for the sake of making some symbolic points?

  2. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    Bobby — I think Robin answers your second question — this takes existing plastic bottles and reuses them… I don’t see how that’s at odds with trying to reduce the production of bottles — unless you know a way we can snap our fingers and make the existing bottles disappear… if you do, please share!

    I think this also answers the first question — these bottles exist, so why not make use of them?

    Drinking water bottles, and other plastic containers, are made for a single use… that’s the problem. Let’s reuse/recycle what’s out there, but also work to reduce the production of single-use products, and focus on creating products that can be reused… thus, reducing overall consumption of plastics.

    Glad to see you’re still making it over here!

  3. Bobby B.

    No, I really don’t think that any of my questions were addressed. Even though the material is available, there are no logical reasons to risk an acute environmental debacle by gathering up a bunch of waste plastic to build a boat. There is also no green reason to consume foods grown in plastic shrines; unless the environmentalists have dropped that whole plastic bottle cancer link business. All of the examples provided in the original post were symbolic campaigns designed to raise awareness, not to actually address the supposed problem. Getting off point, can growers who grow in plastic greenhouses or bottles secure one of those coveted “Certified Organic” labels?

    Several less-than-creative answers to the “problem” already exist, but are not in wide practice. Here are a few of my ideas:

    1. Recycle plastic bottles like we used to do the glass soda bottles (cash paid upon delivery). Wash, rinse, repeat, irradiate if necessary, and reuse as – drumroll please – PLASTIC BOTTLES!

    2. Pay cash upon delivery, melt, repackage, and sell to companies that can blend recycled materials with new materials when making their products. For example, several police agencies around the world use plastic/rubber “dum-dum” bullets for crowd control. There is no reason for the manufacturers of dum-dum bullets to use only virgin materials.

    3. Shred and burn in a power generating furnace. Plastic has a fairly high heat content once you get it burning.

    4. Figure out how to make a high quality, less expensive fishing line out of the stuff. Monofilament prices just keep going up and it’s killing me.

    I have several ideas but no venture capital, so others will have to put the ones I have given away into practice.

    Glad to be back (part time) and welcome at your creation. I figured the resurrection of The Fairness Doctrine necessitated some balance on the blog. πŸ˜‰

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