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David de Rothschild: Talking Trash
On the eve of a two-year project to combat waste, one of England's greenest aristocrats shares his plans for cleaning up the planet.

Text by Mary Anne Potts   Photograph by Martin Hartley

Photo: David de Rothschild
David de Rothschild is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2007.

THE MAN: David de Rothschild, 28, founder of Adventure Ecology; heir to one of the world's largest banking fortunes

THE MISSION: A series of expeditions, from the Amazon to the open sea, to draw attention to the world's most polluted places

Adventure Ecology's Ten Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Act

1. Reduce the number of plastic bags you acquire. If you have to accept a bag, find an additional use for it.

2. Use newspaper instead of logs in your fireplace. One paper will burn for up to an hour. Visit for details.

3. Reuse envelopes.

4. While waiting for tap water to get hot, collect the water for your plants.

5. Avoid disposable razors. Every day Bic sells 10 million razors that end up in landfills.

6. Use cloth handkerchiefs to reduce the energy and expense of producing and packaging paper tissues.

7. Water your garden at night so the water soaks into the ground instead of evaporating.

8. Write to mail companies and get yourself off junk mail lists.

9. Buy local produce that's in season.

10. Reuse greeting cards. Get creative and cut them up as gift tags.

For more, go to Adventure Ecology.

You have the resources to indulge in any number of interests. Why this fascination with garbage?
It's not so much a fascination as an observation that our consumer society is creating a planet of waste. Eighty percent of what we buy gets thrown out within six months. So who you are isn't what's relevant. It's recognizing that we're all part of the problem—and the solution.

In January 2005 you completed a traverse of Antarctica, and five months later your team clocked the fastest crossing of Greenland's ice cap. Trash touring seems a bit tame in comparison.
When we skied across Antarctica, it generated a lot of interest. It seemed insane to let all that energy dissipate. I still wanted to go on great expeditions, but ones with a point. So with Adventure Ecology, we've reversed the model and built them around environmental issues. I think saving the planet is going to be one of the century's greatest adventures.

In April you'll begin traveling with scientists, artists, and filmmakers to the world's filthiest places. What's the first stop?
Near Lago Agrio, Ecuador, is an area about twice the size of Manhattan that was once a rain forest teeming with biodiversity. Now it's an apocalyptic wasteland littered with open-air toxic oil pits. It's a tragedy of epic proportions that needs to be told.

You're also planning a voyage from Hawaii to California. Is there a Bermuda Triangle of junk out there?
Actually, I was horrified to learn that the largest accumulation of trash in the world is not outside New York City or Shanghai, rather it is in the Pacific Ocean—and only sailors and marine conservationists seem to know about it. We'll be traveling in the style of Thor Heyerdahl, except that our boat will be made out of plastic bottles.

How many plastic bottles will it take to build this recyclable Kon-Tiki?
More than I care to think about. Considering that we throw away billions of bottles a year, we won't be short on raw materials.

Cover: Adventure magazine

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