Artists shine a light on the plastic problem.
The numbers are staggering – 90.5% of the 6,300 million metric tons (6,944 million U.S. tons) of plastics ever made have never been recycled and 8 million metric tons (8.8 million U.S. tons) of plastic waste flow into our oceans each year. Instead of getting overwhelmed, these artists transform waste plastics and marine debris into art that asks us to make a change.
Art Reveals Reality
Images and art can illustrate the impacts of our “single use plastics” era in a way no science report can. From photographic evidence of plastics debris ashore on beaches and floating in the sea to transforming plastic bottles, bits or bags into art works, reality is revealed. We do not have control of our waste, it has control of us.
Plastics, often hailed as a marvel material – light, inexpensive, and versatile – have become the bane of beaches worldwide. 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions alone, equivalent to “five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world”.
The mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is in reality a myth. The 3 R’s only work if all three R’s are truly an option. With many purchases coming encased in plastic with no recycling stamp and low demand for products made with recycled plastics, the U.S. only recycles 9% of its annual plastic waste. Further, many cities confront a backlog of plastic waste as China now declines to take U.S. export plastic waste, the 3 R stool is broken. So the new mantra is “Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle”, and the new question is “can I do without the item that either is made of or wrapped in, single-use plastic?”
Common Single-Use Plastics
- Plastic water bottles
- Plastic soda bottles
- Plastic single-serve food containers (yogurt, juice boxes, squeeze pouches, etc.)
- Take-away containers
- Drink cups
- Plastic shopping bags (varies)
- Plastic take-away cup lids (coffee, tea, soda) (varies)
- Plastic straws
- Plastic sandwich wrap
- Plastic sandwich bags
- Produce bags
- Produce stickers and tags
- Dental picks & plastic floss tools
- Bottle lids
- Plastic toothpicks
- Plastic utensils (forks, spoons, knives) & plates
- Bubble wrap
- Plastic film packaging (from toilet paper wrap to shipping filler)
- Deli wrap and trays
- Hard plastic packaging shells
- Plastic packaging tape
- Dirty plastic tarp
- Coated disposable hot beverage cups (coffee, tea)
- Disposable diapers
While artists may turn waste cleanup into art materials, they aren’t just making art. They are often calling us to action. Consider some of the things used on a daily basis all around the world that either can’t be recycled, or just aren’t recycled due to demand for recycled plastic products. Are there some you can do without? A relatively easy way to start – get and use reusable grocery bags, water bottles or coffee cups. Check your local thrift store for used options too.
Ready to aim higher? Ditch single use and pick your pledge of anti-plastic allegiance, such as National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic Pledge or the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s 4 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Pledge (which both have plenty of resources to help you navigate to the plastic-free promised land.