By now we have all seen the shocking images of the seahorse wrapped around a cotton ear bud, the turtle with a straw stuck in his nose or the stalk trapped in a carrier bag; The one thing they all have in common is plastic. Approximately 18 billion pounds of plastic end up in the oceans each year, taking hundreds of years to decay and trapping aquatic life along the way or worse, are mistaken for food and therefore are being digested. The ocean is already home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastics and microplastics. As this number continues to grow, the National Geographic has labelled the current situation a “Plastic Apocalypse”. Although the problem has been around for some time only recently has it gotten so much media exposure, a prime example being David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet 2” revealing the different pieces of plastics that can become fatal to Albatross chicks that have eaten the materials after mistaking them for food. In addition to documentaries and news articles, there have been many artists raising awareness including Mandy Barker, Shelia Roberts and conceptual photographer Benjamin Von Wong. Von Wong’s project ‘Mermaids Hate Plastic’ was created in a warehouse and used over 10,000 plastic bottles that were borrowed from a management waste centre to create the image. His photographic project explores the idea of there being more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, a report stated by the World Economic Forum. His images are so beautifully executed, helping to raise awareness in a creative way by giving a visual aid to all the statistics and numbers that are thrown at the public.
Since all the publicity and media attention, in the UK we have seen pledges and bans such as the single use plastic bag charge that was put into action in 2015. To further this, although an official ban has not yet been placed, we have seen a mass of companies recently pledging to use more eco-friendly straws and cutlery other than plastic. Companies such as ‘All Bar One’, ‘Pret A Manger’ and ‘Starbucks’ have started working on minimising their contribution to the plastic pollution pandemic with many more companies to follow.
In addition to artists raising awareness, such a Von Wong, some are taking it upon themselves to create new ways to perhaps alleviate and help solve the problem. One example of the is Antonia (Toni) Packham, a student from Brighton University studying sustainable design. Her work addresses the impacts of plastic on the environment as she creates high quality products such as kitchenware made out of plastiglomerate– A material made from sand, shells and debris found along seashores held together by melted plastic. Her creations are not only eco-friendly but aesthetically pleasing, the molten plastics and materials bound together create a sort of marbled affect. The plastics Packham uses are those that she has collected herself during beach cleans, therefore not only is she sharing an innovative new idea with us all, but she has already started putting it into practice, using the plastic to create unique items instead of having them wash away into the ocean. She is already helping to reduce the waste washing into the oceans and through her products is encouraging her clientele to do the same. Beach cleans, recycling, upcycling and conscious decisions are on the rise, with artists helping to lead the way by bringing to light important discussions and problems through their own creative processes and encouraging change. We seem to be at the start of a global clean-up movement. To quote David Attenborough himself “we are at a unique stage in our history, never before have we had such an awareness of what we were doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about it”.
Written by: Melisa Tokel