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Our #PointlessPlastics campaign is about raising awareness of pointless or easily replaceable uses of plastics, whilst also working to identify new packaging solutions that will improve material use whilst still meeting producers and product-users needs.
On top of that ambition, we’re also on a mission to seek out #PointlessPlastics heroes. Those creating change by reducing or improving plastic use. As the world’s first recycled plastic punt, weighing in at 99% recycled plastic, Hubbub’s Poly-Mer is a testament to those rare moments when vision, grit and determination combine. We caught up with Gavin Ellis, co-founder of Hubbub and one of the visionaries behind this wonderful project.
Ellis co-founded Hubbub three and a half years ago as a means of finding fresh new ways to communicate sustainability. They hope to create campaigns which are relevant, tangible and inspiring around four key themes: food, fashion, homes and neighbourhoods.
It all started when Hubbub’s CEO Trewin Restorick met Christine Armstrong, who is on the Parents’ Association of Canary Wharf College and an expert on the Circular Economy. Based just by the docks at Canary Wharf, the college sees first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution and had already been running Plastic Fishing trips with their students to fish litter from the Docks, in conventional boats and in collaboration with Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre. Armstrong shared a project she had discovered in Amsterdam: Plastic Whale, a social enterprise taking corporate volunteers on plastic fishing trips, in boats made of recycled plastic. That’s where the idea came from, Ellis explains:
“Christine Armstrong suggested doing something similar [to Plastic Whale] in the UK and invited us to help make it a reality. The Docklands is in the shadow of big businesses and we thought it would be a great employee engagement opportunity. A chance to show that plastic has a value. The boat was a way of visualising that and making it real for people.”
The Hubbub team wanted to find someone in the UK to build the boat. Luckily, a sailing instructor on the Parents’ Association introduced them to Mark Edwards at Richmond Boat Houses. Edwards, who has extensive experience building wooden boats, including the royal barge, Gloriana, had never made a plastic boat before, but was up for the challenge of building a punt style boat with new materials. As Ellis puts it:
“He’s a real maverick genius and had such enthusiasm for the whole project.”
First, they needed to collect the plastic. Plastic bottles were collected at the Prudential RideLondon event with support from Buxton Water. The bottles were taken to the Plaswood site in Scotland where they were mixed with plastic agricultural waste and turned into plastic sheets and lumber to build the boat. However, the plastic sheets didn’t quite have the same qualities as the wood Edwards was used to working with:
“[Recycled plastic] is heavier and floppier than wood, but really durable and weatherproof. Plastic bottles are made of PET and Plaswood can only accept 20% PET as otherwise [the planks] become too brittle. The rest of it comes from recycled agricultural plastic waste. The boat is 99% recycled plastic due to the polystyrene foam core which makes the boat buoyant – we weren’t able to source recycled foam but as it’s mainly air this is only a fraction of the overall material used in the build”.
He’s optimistic that even this mean feat can be improved however, and the team will be aiming for 100% recycled in future builds, based on quite a few lessons from this endeavour:
“There was a lot of trial and error. For example, plastic doesn’t respond very well to glue, so [Edwards] ended up using copper clench nailing, a traditional technique used by the Vikings!”
The maiden voyage…
By October, the craft was finished and tested and the team got a crash course in how to make a boat seaworthy. Ellis describes an intense process:
“We had to do sink tests, where you essentially fill the boat with water and try to sink it. It’s really solid & sturdy. The recycled plastic exterior has a polystyrene foam core to give it buoyancy and rigidity. It’s really clever boat building.”
The 12 seater craft’s maiden voyage was on the 2nd November last year. Christened ‘Poly-Mer’ via a social media competition, judged by Hubbub and Canary Wharf College, she launched for a plastic fishing trip on the Thames to choruses of ‘row row row your boat’. The boat now lives at the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre and will be used to engage local schools and London businesses with the issue of plastic pollution. Funding from the City Bridge Trust will enable 55 trips with London school children over the next three years. Ellis hopes she’ll create awareness, but also inspire hope that change is possible:
“Plastic is such a big, important and at times depressing issue, but at Hubbub we believe you capture people’s imagination through telling positive stories. In this case, it’s been such a success because of the collaboration between such unusual parties.”
“People make the story. It’s not about big strategies and ambitions, but real people doing things on the ground in their communities.”
To find out more about the Poly-Mer, or to book a voyage for your employees, visit Hubbub’s site or email: email@example.com. All profits will go towards funding plastic fishing trips for school children.
- Film about the boat and plastic fishing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k0YaQA6C28&t=3s
- Film about the boat bulder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Wb8d88x8o8&t=6s
- Hubbub’s 5 steps to reduce plastic blog: https://www.hubbub.org.uk/blog/five-steps-to-reducing-single-use-plastics
Join us at the 2018 GGA Ceremony: To celebrate excellence in social impact and sustainability (and sample our vegan wines!)
You don’t have to be an entrant to come along to the GGA ceremony! If you’re involved in social impact or sustainability, the GGA is the place to be! From our ‘eco-tie’ dress code, to our completely vegan menu, we aim to set the standard for sustainable events, and we want to share our learnings with you. Find out more about the 2018 ceremony, here>>