When you can’t float your boat, make an island…
And now for some good news. Entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to deal with our single-use plastic waste problem, exhibiting how plastic can be repurposed and used in novel ways. Frenchman Eric Becker originally moved to Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire —The Ivory Coast — in 2012 to start a boating business, but after seeing the amount of plastic floating in the lagoon and laying on its shores, had to first find a way to recycle the plastic waste instead. Maybe there was nowhere to float his boat…
He took the initiative of collecting everything that floated, from plastic to styrofoam, eventually collecting an astonishing 700,000 plastic bottles that he checked for strength and viability and then packed into crates. Using his knowledge of building catamarans, he connected the crates and made a rafting system, and he kept building.
It took him six years to create his floating island, L’île Flottante resort, on Abidjan’s Ébrié Lagoon. The buildings he fashioned from frames of recycled plastic covered with wood and light cement. He inserted solar panels for full power, and in 2018 opened a hotel, complete with two swimming pools, a restaurant, and a karaoke bar, where they now welcome a mix of curious locals and eco-tourists totaling around a hundred guests per week. It costs $25 for a day visit to the island, which includes the ferry ride and a meal, or $100 for an overnight stay.
There are walkways connecting platforms housing small bungalows, shaded relaxation areas, shrubs, trees, and herb gardens. The island weighs around 200 tons, floats in the middle of the lagoon, and can be moved.
For now, drinking water has to be piped in from the mainland as the lagoon is too polluted.
Abidjan is the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire, and one of the largest populated cities in Western Africa with a major French-speaking population. Their seaport is known for exporting coffee, cocoa, timber, bananas, and pineapples. Single-use plastics account for up to 12% of their waste. However, this problem has now turned into an opportunity, and Becker’s hoping to build islands all over the Ivory Coast.
Currently, a project is being carried out with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a Colombian company Conceptos Plásticos, to build a brick manufacturing plant in Abidjan. This will facilitate the production of recycled plastic bricks to build 500 classrooms over the next year. The benefits are three-fold: The schools will benefit at least 25,000 disadvantaged children, mainly in primary and nursery schools, provide income sources for families and take a sizable portion of plastic waste out of the environment, melting and molding it into a solid easy-to-assemble material, like a lego brick.
The resulting bricks are insulating, more durable than mud walls that corrode with the sun and the rain, (we know that plastic lasts forever), and the classrooms look inspiring when built. This cutting-edge company has already supplied recycled plastic brick houses to millions of people in Latin America, and exemplify some of the innovative ways to tackle the volume of plastic in our environment.
It’s amazing to see when people, companies, and countries can come together for a unified solution. Let’s hope the concept catches on.