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WE'RE BUILDING A BOAT OUT OF... PLASTIC BOTTLES? by Bob Qian, Youth CR3W

Fellow project lead Neeraj processing collected plastic bottles.

More bottles waiting to be processed.
Those are extra bottle caps on the floor.

Our finished bin of processed plastic bottles.

I’m Bob Qian, a first-year Youth CR3W member, and one of the leads for this year’s incredible science project. For those who may not be familiar, Youth CR3W at the Adventure Science Center is a youth engagement program for high school teens in Nashville. Every year, ten new teens are accepted and join the other CR3W members in giving educational demonstrations, interpreting exhibits, facilitating public events, and creating science projects.

This year, we’ve launched an ambitious project to build a boat – a real, working boat – out of only plastic bottles. The goal is to promote awareness about recycling plastics and, of course, to have fun paddling out on the water! Let me explain how we’re going to do this.

The project had been an idea for a while, but we began working on it in earnest in February of this year. We did some research and found a couple of examples of others building successful plastic rafts and floats. In the end, we decided to follow this article on how to Make an Open Kayak From Recycled Bottles in making our own boat. Our rough game plan was to (1) collect plastic bottles; (2) process the bottles, such as removing the labels and rinsing them out; (3) design the boat; and (4) build the boat.

So step 1 began. We gave a couple of months to let the collected bottles accumulate and then, in April, we took a day to record and process the plastic bottles that had been gathered thus far. It was an extremely time-consuming operation.

We decided to keep four types of bottles –  regular, Dasani, Sparkling Ice, and mini Gatorade – while recycling the others (like Coke, Dr. Pepper, etc) because they had labels that didn’t cleanly come off.

Our bottle goal is 300, which should be enough to support the weight of a 150 pound person. After that first day of sorting, these were our results:

113 regular bottles, 15 Dasani bottles, 17 Sparkling Ice bottles, and 23 mini Gatorade bottles for a total of 168 bottles collected.

We were a bit conflicted over whether we should use only regular bottles or incorporate all of the bottle types that we collected. We decided that we would aim for 300 regular bottles and incorporate the other bottles as accessories or for aesthetics.

The biggest obstacle in our way right now is the assembly process. In the article I mentioned earlier, Gatorade bottles were used to build the boat. Because Gatorade bottles have large caps and large bottoms, they fit snugly into one another. However, we’re using regular water bottles, which have much smaller bottoms and caps; this makes gluing them together more difficult and possibly less stable.

One workaround to this is gluing the bottles to thin pieces of wood and then connecting the wood pieces. But that’s a discussion for another day – for now, we’re just trying to reach 300 plastic bottles.

Once we collect enough bottles, the design phase will begin, so stay tuned!

- Bob Qian, Youth CR3W

Posted by Molly Hornbuckle at 3:00 PM
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