Art that transforms trash into treasure, with a message.
We’ve got a problem with waste. It includes single-use plastics, and so much beyond. We have a global dependency on plastic that has been manufactured into every level of consumer society. Hybrid materials mix multiple ingredients that are difficult to recycle or impossible to compost. Synthetic fabrics leach micro-plastic fibers into the water system every time we wash our clothes. The design of fabrics, materials, and products do not address the waste they create during and after their use. The disposal or recycling of products is not handled by the companies that create them, but by the consumer and the communities in which they live. Thus taxpayers tackle disposal, removing corporate financial incentives to reduce the production of waste-generating goods.
So in July, The Art of Sustainability will feature art that mines the vast abundance of waste and trash and beach litter and plastic bottles and caps and so on, and transforms those discarded items into art treasures. Can art inspire us to reduce and reuse, lowering the demand for the challenge of global recycling? Can art inspire demand for plastic alternatives, for slow fashion, for compostable products, for natural materials, for zero-waste pathways?
Also, The Art of Sustainability will experiement with a new format this month. The Don’t Trash It! blog will be split into 3 sub-posts. First, will be the introductory statement, similar to the exhibit description at a museum. The second post of the month will include a gallery of images that grows throughout the month, in parallel to the @the_art_of_sustainability feed on Instagram. The third post of the month will offer reflections and observations from the month’s art with a review of related actions for those who are interested in making change. I’ll include steps I’ve taken in my own life as well as a record of my own journey.
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.
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.)
Plastic shopping bags (varies)
Plastic take-away cup lids (coffee, tea, soda) (varies)
Plastic sandwich wrap
Plastic sandwich bags
Produce stickers and tags
Dental picks & plastic floss tools
Plastic utensils (forks, spoons, knives) & plates
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)
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.