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Environmentalist: It's becoming a plastic world

By Tom Evans, CNN
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Swimming in Stuff
  • Molecular-sized pieces of plastic have accumulated in oceans, land, atmosphere, since 1909
  • Plastic getting into the food chain and transferring toxins into us through the food we eat
  • Environmentalist David De Rothschild about to set sail on a boat made of recycled plastic
  • Voyage aims to highlight huge amount of plastic polluting the Pacific Ocean

(CNN) -- Every bit of fully synthetic plastic that's ever been produced over the past 100 years is somewhere on our planet, a leading environmentalist, David de Rothschild, said Tuesday.

De Rothschild, who's about to set sail on a boat made of recycled plastic to highlight pollution in the Pacific Ocean, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour there has been a huge aggregation of small molecular-sized pieces of plastic in our atmosphere, in our oceans, or on our land since plastic was first produced in 1909.

"We're seeing them aggregating ... and getting into the food chain, which is then transferring toxins back into us through the food we eat," de Rothschild said.

"We have this sort of voracious appetite for throwaway, single-use plastics, what I call Dumb Planet 1.0 plastics -- the plastic bag, the Styrofoam cup."

De Rothschild said he will set sail on his boat, called the Plastiki, some time in the next 10 days, depending on the weather and other factors.

His catamaran-style boat is made principally of 12,500 reclaimed plastic water bottles, which are designed to keep his vessel afloat, while the main frame is constructed from polyethylene terephthalate -- a recyclable plastic material used in food and beverage containers and other products.

Gallery: Expedition Plastiki: The crew
Gallery: Plastiki: About the boat

His aim during a 100-day voyage that will take him from San Francisco, California, to Sydney, Australia, is to find the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" between California and Japan -- a massive sea of plastic trash that environmentalists say could soon be larger than the continental United States.

"What I think people need to realize is that there are five (patches), not just one", he added. "We are seeing a convergence zone in our oceans -- the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and the west coast of Australia."

He said he has two goals. The first is to raise public awareness of the huge amounts of plastic that are polluting the planet. The second is to get people to "reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink" those everyday items that people now throw away as garbage.

Former Greenpeace activist Annie Leonard, author of the book "The Story of Stuff," and host of an online video, said 99 percent of all the materials that flow through the production process becomes trash within six months.

Leonard said she loves "her stuff" as much as anyone. But she wants people to be more aware of where it comes from so everyone can be a little more conscious of all the materials that flow through our lives.

She also said there are great opportunities to help remedy the pollution situation -- in the field of green chemistry, for example.

"Chemists are replacing toxic chemicals with brand-new molecules that are actually designed from the very molecular level to be compatible with ecological systems," she said, "So that we can have glues and dyes and pigments that don't poison the workers or the communities."

Meanwhile, Economics Professor Russ Roberts of George Mason University just outside Washington, told Amanpour that "although it's pleasurable to have toys and have goodies and have a big house, they come at a price."

But he said people should not confuse the desire to get out of poverty and get a better standard of living with being a gross materialist.

"It's a matter of moderation and balance," Roberts said.

He added that he wants a less powerful government, because he thinks government now oversteps its bounds and often protects businesses at the expense of consumers.

"A business that's left in a competitive world, without the government's help, the way it thrives is by making better, safer, and healthier products that use less waste, because that keeps the price down," Roberts said.