It all started with a few plastic bottles and a bloke named Richart Sowa off the coast of Cancun, Mexico.
For two decades, Sowa, an artist from England, has been working on a project to find a use for plastic waste. His ingenious solution consists of an island—a floating island—constructed out of a jumble of various waste materials and living biology. By putting them to good use and making efficient use of their particular properties, the island presents an ecological solution to some of the world’s pollution woes.
Not only that, it’s practically living off the grid in what could be described as paradise.
The island, dubbed Joyxee Island, was tethered to Isla Mujeres, a few miles off the mainland. Air-filled plastic bottles, numbering some 150,000, according to Sowa, are contained in nets and comprise the bottom layer of the floating haven. Their buoyancy is what lifts the island above the waves. Layered upon them are wooden pallets, plywood, sand, and soil. Mangrove trees and plants provide shade above while extending their roots down below, weaving through and binding the layers of wood and plastic, literally holding the island together.
The project is conceived as a self-sufficient ecosystem. The island grows like an organism. Sowa accumulates new waste in bags, which is piled on top of old waste and covered with soil—layered like “lasagna,” as Sowa says in a video tour.
The floating habitat began in 2008 as a humble, foliage-covered raft as a replacement for Sowa’s previous island, Spiral Island, destroyed by Hurricane Emily in 2005. Since then, Joyxee was furnished with a three-story, 750-square-foot house, with air conditioner, toilet, household appliances, shower, and internet. The island is powered by solar panels. In the garden, Sowa grows produce and herbs.
He believes it is possible to eventually generate free, water-cooled air conditioning from the waves, which will be piped in through tubes made out of plastic bottles. He’s already built a solar cooker.
As ingenious as all this sounds, Richart has dreamt of taking the endeavor to even grander heights. Using sails, a “fishtail” rudder/propeller, and a pointed nose, Sowa envisioned a mobile island that can travel the high seas. More fantastically, Sowa describes something so outlandish that it sounds like science fiction:
“When you have a floating island, you create your own micro-climate,” Sowa explains. “And, you get the sun light, and you put in the middle of the island a big satellite dish with mirrors in it, you can focus the sun to make a hot spot in the middle of the island, and create your own tornado […] and you could even fly the island like that.”
Sowa envisions plant-covered islands flying around all over the planet, at different levels. “It’s all possible,” he adds.
In recent months, the island has sustained more storm damage, but Sowa is determined to keep the project afloat. He plans not only to repair the island, but to expand and create more of them. Currently, an ecological group has invited him overseas to Bali to build three more similar floating plastic bottle paradises.