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Paradise Recycled: Architects Dream of Turning Great Pacific Garbage Patch Into Habitable Island

recycled island

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a jumble of plastic trash that spans hundreds of miles northwest of Hawaii, has gotten lots of attention ever since billionaire adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild announced his plans to visit the trash mass on the Plastiki, a boat constructed from recycled waste and webs of plastic. Now the Plastiki has launched, and a group of architects from Rotterdam have already come up with another way to draw attention to the plastic gyre: a Hawaii-sized island made entirely out of recycled plastic.

recycled island

GOOD points us to the Recycled Island Web site, where Rotterdam WHIM Architecture explains its motivation:

Recycled Island is a research project on the potential of realizing a habitable floating island in the Pacific Ocean made from all the plastic waste that is momentarily floating around in the ocean. The proposal has three main aims; Cleaning our oceans from a gigantic amount of plastic waste; Creating new land; And constructing a sustainable habitat. Recycled island seeks the possibilities to recycle the plastic waste on the spot and to recycle it into a floating entity. The constructive and marine technical aspects take part in the project of creating a sea worthy island.

It sounds crazy—and maybe it is—but the idea makes sense. WHIM points out that the biggest concentration of plastic in the ocean has a footprint as large as France and Spain combined. That means there is plenty of plastic already floating around to make an island. And wouldn't it be nice to provide future climate change refugees with a new sustainable home? Not that anyone would necessarily want to live on a hunk of floating plastic, but the idea of taking trash and turning it into something useful is always thought-provoking.

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  • Jack Dragon

    I think to build on top of it would be a bad idea. Its just human to cover it up and forget about it but its still there.
    It needs to be removed from the oceans so the breakdown does not kill all of the creatures in the ocean. The fish out there are a huge part of our food chain and we are going to exhaust this resource in more ways then one very ... See Morequickly.
    We need to bring it all back on land and deal with our problem by making something useful out of it.
    Maybe houses or insulation and such with plans on recycling that again in the future.

    Man I love to eat fish! I'd be so sad if in just a few generations our kids kids kids were not able to have fish or it was rationed out in cans because some rich people needed another island.

  • Deebo61

    my name is sammy sallimander you are a goon, one island will not wipeout the entire fish population. you like fish? go fishing

  • ken steen

    Sorry but this is nonsense. Which isn't surprising since it comes from David Rothschild (who once claimed that Jupiter was closer to the Sun than the Earth).

    First of all, the supposed "garbage patch" is nothing so substantial as the picture imagines. In fact, if you were in the middle of it you wouldn't know it. Most of the material has been exposed to the Sun and elements and has been broken down into various sludgy byproducts that float beneath the surface.

    Beyond that, putting anything so substantial as a physical island out in the middle of the ocean would require engineering on the scale of constructing your own Earth made island from scratch.

    In short, it aint gonna happen.


  • Erik Nmre Overn

    What a dope------^ "It's been exposed to the sun, it's sludgy, and it's beneath the surface" Did you actually even READ the article? He got there on a boat MADE of that same stuff. I'd say that's Step#1. You think the Earth is flat too?

  • Shane L Kohlmeier watch this documentary and you will get a better understanding. There is not giant floating island out in the ocean. It is more like a giant field of plastic particles under the surface spaced out over toughly 5000 square km. if you were in the middle of it you probably wouldn't even know until you dove under the surface and used a filter to collect water and then once back on your ship you could see what is the ocean. What's out there is pretty disgusting and makes you feel bad but there is absolutely no giant floating island you can sail to and see from your boat.

  • Deborah Png

    Interesting possibilities for creating new countries if this idea works...

  • Peter Martin

    There have of course been a few efforts involving creating 'islands' out of plastic, though, as Dave Bois suggests, more coherently based around the structure of like-sized building blocks, as with Plastiki.

    He does also raise the issue of weathering, though it was my understanding these things would last a fair old while. Top cover might address the UV, wave action less easy to defend against. It's possible that a replenishment system could be envisaged, but that does not address the pollution aspect of plastic soup referred to.

    Worth checking out mind, he says, as construction of his river canoe from milk bottles goes ahead.


  • Dave Bois


    I think the spirit and philosophy and the embedded statement of the proposed project are spot on. Accordingly I'm feeling pretty sheepish for my initial gut reaction to bear a distinct fault-finding flavor. Not typically my style.

    That said, regardless of the creative drive to reuse, plastic in the ocean is still plastic in the ocean. Unless I'm missing a design detail that will account for this, if this material will be communicating with the sea, subject to wave action and UV radiation, it's going to physically degrade into ever-tinier bits of extremely persistent stuff (delivered in bite-size servings for marine life, no less).

    That's the knotty problem with the Pacific Garbage Patch -- we envision a gyre of old soda bottles, but its more of a marine pudding, a mungy brew of way-too-tiny-to-reclaim suspended bits that our plastic crap has broken down into over time.

    The best thing to do with plastic waste collected from the ocean is to just get it the heck out of there.