David de Rothschild rethinks plastic

October 23, 2010

Plastic is everywhere. It is a pervasive part of our everyday lives. It’s a huge source of waste and most of it is not even biodegradable. Worst of all, much of the plastic we throw out is designed to be used only once. So what can we do about a product that we use just one time and then never goes away?

Eco-explorer David de Rothschild, the founder of Adventure Ecology, believes we need to change the way we think about plastic. In addition to using and creating less of it, de Rothschild thinks we need to start recognizing used plastic as a resource.

“Maybe plastic is not to blame,” de Rothschild says. “Maybe we are just not using it correctly.”

David is quick to point out that there are two different kinds of plastic — the good kind and the bad. But even a type of plastic that might be considered good — like say a biodegradable plastic cup — is not good if designed to be used for a one-time purpose.

Straws are the worst, de Rothschild says. “They suck,” he says. Literally, yes, and figuratively because they they are so overused and rarely a real necessity. But instead of fighting this existing reality, David is trying to create a new one.

“Pollution is nothing but the resources we aren’t harvesting,” David says. “We just need to start using it differently and thinking about it differently.”

For David, that meant building a catamaran out of 12,500 plastic bottles to show how something we consider waste can actually be used to, for instance, sail across the Pacific Ocean. The sail on the Plastiki, what David named the boat, from San Francisco to Sydney definitely made for a great story, but for David that is not enough. “We need to take these stories and do something with them,” he says.

For now, David, who hosts the Sundance Channel’s “Eco-Trip,” is redefining the story we tell ourselves about plastic. He hopes that this storytelling will inspire ideas on how to be smarter about our planet and the way we live.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Buckminster Fuller once said. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

It is a favorite quote of David’s, although he substitutes the word “boat” for “model,” and it is exactly what he is in the midst of doing.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Why not corn? Corn is the highest subsidized U.S. Crop. (totaled $73.8 billion from 1995-2009 source:farm.ewg.org)

So yes biodegradable corn plastic is just waiting for the next Steve Jobs to “Iplate it” into the household.

If prices can be brought down and bowls for instance can be used for hot soups then something may surface.


Posted by progress23 | Report as abusive

Right on. Proper waste management is the harvesting of resources!

Posted by jfxwsr | Report as abusive

Hopefully in the future single use dumb plastic will (A) not exists & (B) will be reused until it is recycled, as people become aware that plastic does not belong out/in the environment but contained in its own and see it different & take the time to think about what it all means to live within nature of the eco system to appreciate & respect it as our own body’s, everything is connected

Posted by eco365 | Report as abusive