Each year, the United States throws away enough plastic bottles to circle Earth four times. In her recent documentary, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, sports announcer Angela Sun discusses the massive patch of plastic floating in the ocean known as the North Pacific Gyre. The plastic waste threatens marine life, and some experts fear that it will pollute our oceans indefinitely.
But some forward-thinking problem-solvers see new potential in this growing problem. Adopting the mentality of “if you can’t beat them, join them,” they’re using non-biodegradable plastics to create floating habitats and, in some cases, entire islands. According to the people creating these amazing artificial islands, this is a logical and sustainable way to combat climate change and ocean pollution.
The idea is grandiose. But two visionaries in the Netherlands and Mexico are pulling it off. Read on to see the progress they’re making.
Plastic Islands and Villas in the Netherlands
One of the most ambitious projects being planned is Recycled Island, the brainchild of Dutch architect Ramon Knoester of WHIM Architecture. His idea is to recycle the plastic polluting our oceans and turn it into the foundation for an inhabitable and self-sustaining island.
Knoester’s original vision includes using the plastic waste from the North Pacific Gyre as the foundation for his island; it would then be covered with seaweed and compost to become self-sustaining. It would also be powered by solar and wave energy. Knoester estimated it could house about half a million residents as well as support livestock and agriculture.
However, collecting the garbage and finding a way to recycle it has proven challenging, so Knoester has temporarily set his sights on a smaller project at the mouth of the Maas River. The river, which runs through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, collects trash from these countries, ultimately dumping it into the North Sea. For this project, Knoester realized that instead of building an entire island, he could begin by creating floating parks and villas.
The venture, called Re:Villa, has gained support from the Netherlands government, and the architect has teamed with students from Rotterdam University as well as chemists, naval architects and engineers to create innovative designs of sophisticated floating homes with prefab foundations built from plastic debris. The foundations will be shaped like puzzle pieces so they can fit together to form larger villages, similar to Knoester’s vision for Recycled Island. The green concept includes compost toilets and rainwater filtration systems as well as solar and wave energy. The plan is to have the first recycled public park prototype afloat by late 2014.
“We think if we can start with that, it’s a good beginning,” the architect says on his website. “And of course, if we can prove a floating habitat, and the technology for gathering plastic improves in the North Pacific Gyre, then hopefully we can develop it there.”
An ‘Extreme Crib’ Made from Plastic Waste
While Knoester may have the most ambitious vision, he isn’t the only one to consider plastic pollution as a building material. In 1998, England expatriate Richart “Richie” Sowa built Spiral Island, a floating island near Isla Mujeres and Cancun, Mexico. Built from more than 125,000 bottles salvaged from trash, it was unfortunately destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005. But Sowa rebuilt, making Joysxee Island, which used about 100,000 bottles and has three beaches, a house, two ponds, a solar-powered waterfall, a river, a wave-powered washing machine and solar panels.
Joysxee Island, open for tours since 2008, has received worldwide attention and has been featured in everything from documentaries to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! television series to MTV’s Extreme Cribs. The artificial island has some scientists and architects (like Knoester) rethinking how to battle the growing masses of ocean trash.
The future of plastic as the foundation for new habitats is an idea that could be considered both radical and logical. Climate change leads to rising water levels, and large parts of Rotterdam are below sea level; Knoester is among those who believe that floating landscapes are the solution for flood-resistant housing, while also providing an answer to a problem that no one seems clear on how to solve: the growing mass of plastic in the ocean.
According to the Rotterdam Climate Initiative, the creation of thousands of floating districts will allow residents to live, shop, work and play in a climate-proof city. The initiative’s website predicts that “floating construction is one of the solutions that will be increasingly favored in the 21st century, and all over the world.”