Each year, Greece receives millions of tourists who come to marvel at the ancient ruins and vacation in the over 200 beautiful islands that are situated in the crystal-clear waters. With these many people who arrive to enjoy what the country has to offer, comes an influx of trash and debris. The most common disposed item is single use plastic (PET) water bottles, which are left to fester in the pristine waters of the Ionian, Aegean, and Mediterranean seas. Depending heavily on eco-tourism, many environmentalists in Greece are brainstorming creative and innovative ways to clean up the ecology while also preserving the culture and aiding the economy of the country.
This summer, I have the pleasure of staying in Greece in my mother’s home in Athens and experience my family’s culture for myself. Plastic bags, water bottles, wrappers, and other miscellaneous debris float in the port water as I climbed onto a ferry as big as a building. As I began writing this post, passing through the deep blue Aegean on my way to the island of Syros, I couldn't help but think about all the threats to this immaculate environment me and my fellow ferry-goers will increase by coming to enjoy it. Although the idea the polluting such a vibrant environment and its affects on Greece depresses me, the sea and the mountainous islands bring a calming presence and fill me with a desire to protect them. It does the same for the New Raw, an environmental design company, who are making strides to protect this ancient area.
The New Raw is a design studio based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It was founded by Panos Sakkas and Foteini Setaki two Greek architects who sought to “give a new life to discarded materials through design, robots and craftsmanship”. The company aims to investigate digital fabrication and material resourcing, turning waste and litter into product that can be used by a 3D printer.
In September of 2015, the New Raw—Plastic, a workshop in Syros, took place. It was made up of 27 participants ranging from architects, industrial designers, environmentalists, and artists. The workshop observed the everyday life of the island, while gathering plastic litter from the island to be used by 3D printing. Plastic pollution can take up to hundreds of years to decompose. For the most part, it only breaks into smaller and smaller particles called microplastics. These small plastic particles get consumed by marine life and seabirds, suffocating, starving them, as well as permeating toxins into their tissue. Not only harmful to the ecosystem, the ingestion of plastic also affects humans. In Syros, where seafood is the main diet, plastic debris contaminates the fish that are caught and eaten. The New Raw—Plastic program sought to turn the litter contaminating the environment into useful items that would benefit both the people and wildlife of Syros.
In the end of the workshop, 5 designs and business concepts were created: a recycled pair of 3D glasses, a seat, a puzzle for children, a house for stray cats on the island, and a material to fill in cracks in buildings. By thinking creatively about how to transform the PET bottles in relationship to the culture of Syros, the New Raw—Plastic was able to offer sustainable options that would not only aide the environment of Syros, but also the community, economy, and life of the island.
Advocate for the Earth's Do One campaign and the New Raw—Plastic has inspired to take action, even if it seems too minute to matter. During my time on Syros, I find myself picking up plastic and other trash on the beach and by the port. Even though the act seems like nothing, it shows me I have power to affect the environment around me, even if the influence is small. Everyone has the ability to make change. We just need the confidence and creative to take charge and create a more sustainable world we wish to live in.
Written by Alexia Tiches