July 26, 2010 -- A 60-foot catamaran made out of plastic bottles completed a four-month journey across the Pacific Ocean today, an unusual adventure to raise awareness about the widespread problem of plastic pollution.
Expedition leader David de Rothschild and five other crewmembers sailed their boat, the Plastiki, under the famous Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia, to dock at the city's Maritime Museum. They were met by a cheering crowd of about a hundred, a welcome site after a long voyage that started in San Francisco on March 20.
"It's obviously amazing to be here," said de Rothschild, an heir to the famous banking fortune. "It's been four months of open oceans to get here and four years of this dream, this crazy dream that has now obviously come alive."
The U.S. ambassador to Australia was on hand to welcome the crew, calling their trip a "journey from trash to triumph."
Their 128-day voyage took them to a number of South Pacific islands, including Kiribati and Samoa. On the water, they had to deal with giant waves, high winds, and brutal temperatures. Their diet consisted of little more than canned food and some supplemental vegetables from a small onboard garden.
Still, de Rothschild said that docking today isn't the end of the journey.
"I think the hard work begins today. It's about trying to explain this really dumb issue that we have -- we've got this crazy problem with plastic in our ocean that is not abating. We've got this addiction to single-use plastics," de Rothschild said.
"I hope that the Plastiki will swing the needle and get people to recognize that we can solve this," he said.
The unique vessel was built in the Bay Area from over 12,000 used plastic bottles. Each was filled with carbon dioxide, making the bottles so rigid that a truck could drive over one without crushing it.
"It's very likely that people in the San Francisco area might have a bottle they've drunk in the Plastiki," de Rothschild told ABC News before embarking.
The sail was made of plastic rather than cloth, and even the mast was a repurposed irrigation pipe. The exterior surface was fabricated from plastic, too, instead of the usual fiberglass.
Plastiki Passes Garbage 'Islands' in Pacific
On the 11,000-mile trek, the crew passed by enormous swaths of garbage floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The masses are made of millions of pounds of plastic debris that have gathered in the current and clustered together. One of the mounds is twice the size of Texas -- a vivid image, say the sailors, of how much waste human beings generate.
"I hope it inspires people in their everyday lives to just sort of think about those little things that they can do to make that big difference," de Rothschild told ABC News earlier this year. "I think we all have a responsibility to act, to try to do something about it because I think it's one of those problems we can solve."
The trip was a sacrifice for all the crewmembers; one even missed the birth of his first child. He watched his son's delivery on a Skype video hookup, and met him for the first time today in Sydney.
Now that the trip is done, there's the question of what will happen to the Plastiki. Originally, they had planned to recycle the ship, but now, de Rothschild said, they may keep it whole to continue to spread its green message in a plastic bottle.