Sailing the shores of sustainability

Graduate student launches career in sustainability with launch of sailboat

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Graduate student Dmitry Liapitch, left, dresses up as RIT’s “Super Recycling Man,” the university’s unofficial recycling mascot. As an undergraduate, Liapitch built a sailboat out of recycled plastic bottles to show how many bottles one person uses in a year—and he sailed it on Cayuga Lake.

As an undergraduate, Dmitry Liapitch was curious as to how many plastic drinking bottles he used in a year. “I kept them in my closet. I put them underneath my bed. I put them in my car,” Liapitch says. “In one year, I used enough bottles to build a boat.”

So he did the obvious—he built a boat.

Liapitch, now an RIT sustainable engineering graduate student, has always believed in the power of recycling. He wanted to make something useful out of the massive pile of bottles he collected over a year’s time as a student at Wells College, a small liberal arts college on the shores of Cayuga Lake.

The amount of bottles was staggering. “It kind of blew my mind,” Liapitch says. He had saved nearly 800 of them.

The concept came naturally. The reality of building it was no small feat. He wrapped large amounts of plastic bottles with industrial plastic wrap to create the body of the sailboat. The plan all along was to set sail. During Earth Day events in 2010, Liapitch was able to do so. He set sail on Cayuga Lake, in the Finger Lakes.

“I was skeptical,” Liapitch says with a laugh.

He was to sail across the widest part of the lake, which is about three miles from east shore to west shore. He created the oars out of shower curtains. The sail was a hybrid of fashion and function—a vintage dress combined with plastic shower curtains.

Liapitch made it about a mile and decided he proved his point. “I was going about a mile an hour,” Liapitch says with a smile on his face. “It was a mission accomplished.”

The launch of his boat launched his passion of all things sustainable.

Liapitch, currently RIT’s recycling administrator, is as enthusiastic about recycling and sustainability as humanly possible. He is “Super Recycling Man.” He acts as RIT’s unofficial mascot for recycling, which entails dressing up as a plastic bottle with a recycling logo on it.

“When it comes to sustainability, Dmitry is one of the most dedicated students that I know,” says Enid Cardinal, senior sustainability advisor at RIT. “His passion shows when he speaks about his role as RIT’s recycling coordinator and how he became interested in the field and his enthusiasm is infectious.”

His passion fuels his success. When he was at Wells, the college held the highest recycling rate per student in the country. RIT has taken that throne this past year. He laughs and says with a smile that he’d like to think it was because of him.

Liapitch is always trying to think of ways to get people to recycle. A college student’s footprint is taxing on the environment, he says.

“If one person consumes that many bottles in a year, think of how many people there are in a college and how many they can consume,” Liapitch says. “You’ve got yourself a fleet — an army of plastic.”

As for the boat, Liapitch did the natural thing upon returning to shore. “When in doubt, recycle it.”