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rowsell  ON THE GROUND
Keeping plastic waste in our engines, not our seas

The steps needed to keep plastic waste out of our oceans can be taken quite easily and need not come at the expense of industry and jobs, the ‘On Wings of Waste’ pioneer Jeremy Rowsell has argued in an interview with UN Environment Europe.


Mr Rowsell is leading a historic initiative to raise awareness about end of life plastic in our oceans. His 'On Wings of Waste' flight saw him pilot a plane from Sydney to Melbourne using waste plastic from the ocean as part of the fuel mix. In the interview, Mr Rowsell tells us what inspired him to go for this remarkable achievement and discusses the roles we all have to play in managing waste plastic in a way that is win-win for business and the environment.


When flying in a small aircraft to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctors Pilots some years ago, Mr Rowsell witnessed plastic waste on the beaches of small islands and became aware of the giant gyres of plastic particles that exist in the oceans.


After learning more about plastic waste from a BBC researcher, Mr Rowsell “immediately kick-started the project, mainly because of consequences of an aviation and other industries - mining and agriculture for instance - reliant on toxic and damaging fuels but also, more broadly, because of the global impact of plastic pollution,” the pioneer explains.


Supported by the UK technology firm Plastic Energy, Mr Rowsell then converted waste plastic from the ocean to produce 10% of fuel powering a successful 500-mile flight between two Australian cities in January. The diesel can be produced for €0.23 cents per litre. “Current acceptable plastics are all Polythenes, Polypropylenes, Polystyrenes and they can be mixed,” while “no engine modifications were required,” he explains.


The technique can be replicated on a larger scale - however, “when you collect plastic particles from the ocean you are also in danger of picking up plankton,” Rowsell reveals, calling for care against disturbing the ecology of the oceans.


Using a waste product as fuel saves the cost of producing fossil fuel, on top of - in this case - increased value of tourism from cleaner beaches, improved fish stock quality and improved health from managing waste more effectively, the pioneer notes.


Ultimately, “by placing an economic value on end of life plastic, our aim is to encourage a widespread change of behaviour by governments, corporations and individuals,” he underlines, giving several examples of existing and potential actions. “Enabling and showcasing an economic argument provides a viable way for solutions to be funded and legitimised by stakeholders. This was the real achievement of our flight,” Rowsell believes.


The interview took place as part of UN Environment's #CleanSeas campaign working with governments, industry and consumers to reverse the tide of plastic waste in our oceans. More than eight million tonnes of plastic currently leak into the oceans each year.


To read the full exchange – which is part of a new series meeting exceptional people working in the environment field - click here; and look out for our next special guest!


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