Sweep Island

Sweep Island glides to the rescue in the Mediterranean

The rainforests are considered to be the lungs of the Earth, but what about our oceans? While we’re cutting down our trees, we’re also filling our oceans with endless amounts of plastic. The world is drowning in waste…

It would be an understatement to say we’re drowning in plastic. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced per annum. As many as eight million tonnes of it end up polluting the oceans. Astonishingly, 80 per cent of marine debris is some form of plastic.

That’s a serious problem, as items such as plastic bottles can take 450 years to be broken down entirely. But even when broken down, the danger isn’t over. Plastic is a synthetic material, and rather than completely decomposing like organic ones, it simply breaks into smaller pieces, which can still cause harm to marine life and beyond.
But there’s a new idea to sweep all of that aside – quite literally.

Sweep Island – a design for the future

Angelo Renna is an Italian architect. He was born in Florence, the city which is home to great pinnacles of the Italian Renaissance. You might wonder, what does plastic in the oceans have to do with the work of an architect? Based in Amsterdam, Angelo has a unique passion for finding ways to integrate and preserve natural aspects into architecture.

Recently chosen as an example of young talented architects by Wallpaper magazine, Angelo has dreamt up a new vision for how to protect marine life and foster it in one of the most vulnerable places in the world. Sweep Island is his latest concept – he has the stated aim of using this concept to help nurture and sustain marine life, while also scooping microplastic from the water.

This artificial island would resemble a cartoony tropical desert island from above the surface. Using state-of-the-art 3D printing technology, Angelo proposes a design which includes a ‘vessel’ and a ‘collector’ segment. The vessel would consist of a wooden structure covered in soil, which would provide shelter for various flora and fauna.

A concrete underbelly makes up the underside of Sweep Island. It will be covered in moss and lichen, to attract marine life. The collector segment, which would be 3D-printed, would sit five metres below the waterline, resembling a giant coral branch-like structure. This would be designed to collect plastic.

Angelo explains the reasoning behind such a drastic new concept: “Plastic pollution is a complex issue that cannot be solved by only using cleaning systems, but we need to change and drastically rethink our ways of ‘consuming.’”

Placed in the Pelagos Sanctuary, a marine protected area in the Mediterranean Sea, Sweep Island aims to help protect one of the most biodiverse corners of the marine world, as well as one of the most polluted. The area is home to as many as 12 types of cetaceans (entirely marine-based mammals) and numerous other forms of marine life including turtles.

Angelo cites a report by the WWF, which found that there are 1.3 million fragments of plastic per square kilometre in the Mediterranean. He adds that this was “comparable to those found in the oceanic garbage patches.” Hence the idea to create a floating laboratory that can coexist productively with its surrounding environment.

A life beyond plastic

On an individual level, Angelo does what he can to limit his own use of plastic. “I personally avoid single-use plastic such as drinking straws or plastic glasses”, he admits. “At home, I’ve replaced my plastic containers (like Tupperware or similar) with glass containers.”

Angelo also tries to limit how much plastic is involved in his work as an artist. He does so by resorting to using biodegradable brushes and wearing clothing of natural fabrics in place of synthetics – these acts are, in his view, supporting businesses which have made a clear statement about being green.

However, Angelo doesn’t just actively change his behaviour in his own surroundings – he is politically engaged and actively seeks out movements which intend to inspire others to take action, adding, “I vote for parties that have based their political agenda on solving environmental problems.”

When exploring what can be done about the islands of plastic that pollute our seas, Angelo shows optimism about turning the tide.

Plastic is a relatively new material, so I guess a world without plastic is possible – especially if you considered that it has been introduced only in the late 1960s, and in less than 50 years, the use of plastic has increased exponentially.

Angelo sees art playing a pivotal role in spreading the word in helping to create a more sustainable future. On the subject, he muses, “Art in all its forms, is fundamental to shape cultures and peoples’ awareness. Especially in this period of environmental crisis…art can help people to understand the impact on our planet, of human activities, and induce people to new attitudes and more conscious behaviours.”

But it doesn’t stop with Sweep Island.

In fact, Angelo has plenty of work in the pipeline, with environmentally-minded concepts waiting to see the light of day. He explains: “In the recent past, together with Mark Goddard (ecologist and professor at the University of Leeds) we’ve developed another project called ‘Sponge Mountain’ – it’s an artificial mountain, able to soak up pollution and absorb CO2.”

Not only that, but Angelo is working on San Siro 2.0, a proposed project which would see the planting of 35,000 cypress trees in Milan’s San Siro Stadium, as a memorial to those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 in Italy.

Photo and Image Credit: Angelo Renna

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