These Floating Islands Are Made Of Trash That Normally Clogs The Oceans

The idea is to treat trash as an asset and encourage mangrove forest to grow into bird habitat.

Few environmental problems are as daunting as all the plastic pollution that’s in the oceans. There’s so much of it and it’s spread over such a large distance, that it’s hard to imagine doing anything very comprehensive about it (though one big-thinking teenager is trying his best).


It may be that all we can do is reduce the plastic that goes into the water and work around edges of the problem. That’s sort of the approach taken by artist Lisa Shaw and Scottish ecological designer Galen Fulford. Their concept is to collect trash. But rather than bring it to land, they want to make living islands out of it.

“We’re treating the trash as a potential asset, where we’re creating habitats for birds and places for fish to swim under,” says Shaw.

Shaw saw pictures of plastic pollution and noticed that it often included seeds. She wondered if by collecting the material together into firm blocks, she might be able to sprout new life on top. Shaw and Galen’s concept calls for a catamaran powered by solar power, plus a drone that would fly ahead to collect waste in a “trailing baffle” (a scoop that goes about two feet into the water).

The trash would go into tubular nets and then be compacted tightly either into braided circles, or up-and-down squares. The idea, which was prototyped at a recent London exhibition, is to encourage mangrove forest to grow and create bird habitats.

Of course, it would be better to take all the trash out. But Shaw says that isn’t necessarily practical. No country seems to want to take responsibility. Plus, gathering the trash into bails at least stops it from breaking down and being sent even further afield.

More testing is needed. “We’re not imagining this as the solution to marine trash but it could be a possible idea of one thing that could be in some places as another way of looking at the problem,” Shaw says.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.