It’s not every day one comes across a person who can walk the talk. But I was lucky enough to meet someone who does and what he does is something extra-ordinary for the environment. UK-born pilot and now Australian resident Jeremy Rowsell has made it his mission to not only raise awareness about the negative impact of plastic products ending up in the world’s oceans, he is also promoting a brilliant idea: transforming plastic waste from being a pollutant into an alternative jet fuel.
Raising awareness about the environment is, in itself, quite a daunting and unrewarding task; it’s like carrying a sign on the street that says “The end of the world is near” while people just walk on by. Let’s face it, most of us know that plastic products and other pollutants cause death and damage to wildlife and the environment and yet most of us turn a blind eye to the problem. What’s worse is how we ignore the damage it can ultimately cause human health in generations to come. A recent report delivers not very good news for seafood lovers like me. Since sea creatures like plankton end up eating plastic waste, they can make their way into human bodies too.
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Researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium believe that microplastics accumulate in the body over time and could be a long term health risk.
Unfortunately, if we look back through human history, it is evident that it’s innate in most people to ignore something they perceive as “negative”. That’s because we are attracted to the “fun” side of life. I am guilty of that myself. When I see a documentary about how wildlife is getting affected by pollutants in the ocean, like a picture of a seal getting caught in a plastic bag or something icky, I shudder and begin to look away. Then I forget about it. In my mind, I immediately think that it’s someone else’s problem to solve and blame others by saying “shame on people who throw garbage indiscriminately!” This is exactly what I say when I see images of mountains of garbage washed up by the sea along the shore after a strong typhoon hits a Third World country like the Philippines.
That’s where Rowsell comes in. He wants everyone to get involved. After all, one person cannot do it alone. His project called “On Wings of Waste” has made being an “environmentalist” look cool. As a pilot, he sees firsthand the impact of pollutants like plastic. Since plastic does not break down, they build up and become what they call plastic soup in the ocean.
Rowsell and his co-pilot recently completed their mission – a world’s first – making history by flying his light plane across Australia about 500 miles from Sydney to Melbourne using 10 percent fuel derived from plastic waste blended with 90 percent conventional fuel. If airlines start using plastic fuel, the cost of airfare can potentially go down since as he pointed out, 33 percent of airlines’ operating costs are spent on fuel.
“Jeremy’s vision crystallised when he reached agreement with Plasticenegry, a Spanish based company, producing fuel made from end of life plastic. What emerged was the perfect marriage between the man, inspired by the barnstorming pilots of the 1930s with a mission to spread the word about marine plastic pollution, and a company passionate about the environment, delivering on the sustainable circular economy.
The project dubbed ‘On Wings of Waste’ was born. Jeremy has now flown a WAM RV-9 two seater aircraft in the skies above Wollongong and from Sydney to Melbourne. The ‘On Wings of Waste’ flight is an ambitious, daring and historic initiative to raise awareness about end of life plastic waste in our oceans and to highlight its potential benefits as a new source of fuel.”
Rowsell’s advocacy has certainly caught my attention and made me want to help raise awareness about the effects of plastic waste on the environment and our health. Indeed, he has proven that if you can convince one person, you have already achieved your goal. Starting with ourselves and changing our own behaviour towards how we treat and see plastic is what’s important. Next stop is to convince corporations to come on board. Once they are convinced that this is a big contribution to solving the plastic problem, the effort looks less like one pushing the tide.
This project could greatly benefit developing countries once it takes off. Countries like the Philippines can reduce the volume of garbage being dumped in the ocean once people find another use for plastic waste.
In life, things are not always what they seem.