I've been working on my Recycle Series of jewelry for eight years.
As an artist and visual thinker, I'm well aware of the huge investment consumer brands put into their packaging with alluring, beautiful jewel tones and shapes. As an avid recycler I'm also aware that so much of this consumer packaging is for single use -- then just thrown away. Until recently, I was primarily dismayed about the enormous quantity of plastic that gets thrown away, or perhaps recycled (for those who have an activist mindset and a curbside recycling program.)
I've come to realize that the plastic pollution problems are much larger than most people realize.
A lot of single-use plastics go to landfill, and a very small percentage of the plastic is actually recycled. But vast amounts of plastics are improperly disposed of and get washed or blown into the environment where they do not degrade for hundreds of years. A new documentary exposes the huge quantity of plastic that is accumulating in our oceans.
In parallel with the oceanic accumulation of plastic, I also learned that black plastic is not recycled (even though it is made of recyclable material). These two insights launched my current work in progress titled, Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. It is about the vast quantities, big and small, of plastic in our oceans. The use of only black plastic to appear more threatening.
Coincidentally, while working on my Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I kept wondering how so much plastic gets into our oceans. With heightened mindfulness during the past few weeks, I become aware of how much plastic, especially black plastic, is littered on our streets. Yes, in the streets and yards or on sidewalks and shrubs.
As one example, I saw this black plastic takeout tray, black plastic spoon, and cellophane laying in the street while on my way to the gym. I'm always in a rush in the morning and promised myself that I would photograph the trash and pick it up after class. But then for one reason or another, day after day, I would forget.
Each day I was again confronted by the same black plastic takeout tray and made the same promise to myself. After a few days of repeated negligence, I also noticed that the tray inched its way along the curb and soon realized it was inevitably heading toward the storm sewer. Just a little bit of wind or a push by a car tire, it inched its way toward the storm sewer leading to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, I photographed it and picked it up. One small crisis averted, but every day I started seeing more and more black plastic in the street. I feel like I'm in a weird version of the Sixth Sense movie -- "I see post-use plastic everywhere."
This Sharpie pen laid on the street for days. Crushed by cars, the tube was broken, but the black pen cap proved to be indestructible. I photographed it, picked it up and took it home.
The pen cap is now incorporated into the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.
No wonder plastic accumulates in the ocean and waterways. It lasts forever.
Now I am really paying attention. In the two block walk to the gym, I almost always find plastic litter.
This white plastic strap is really tough. You can't break this. You can barely cut it with scissors. There were two of them. This is what they use to strap boxes and furniture so they don't come apart.
Next there was a plastic bottle. There is nothing "Super Green" about a plastic bottle.
I photographed it and then picked it up. This is becoming a very smelly and distasteful experience in plastic waste awareness.
Before I get to my car there is a plastic baggie laying on the storm sewer grate.
So this is how plastic is getting to the ocean....
This plastic baggie was used for perhaps an hour or two but is now on the brink of going into the storm sewer, floating through the waterways, draining into the San Francisco Bay, and suspended in the ocean for centuries.
Where does my responsibility end?
Sure I picked up the plastic along the street where I walk, but every day there is more.
This was on 43rd Avenue in San Mateo. Within these two blocks are several restaurants with takeout food, e.g. Papa John Pizza, Round Table, a taqueria, Molly Stones grocery store, and CVS pharmacy. They all have plastic packaging and takeout food. Every business and every person who walks that two blocks should be responsible for keeping it clean and cleaning up the trash.
San Mateo has a new Adopt-A-Drain program. I've already volunteered to take care of the storm sewer near my house. At home, I have captured a considerable quantity of organic debris and plastic waste from going into that one sewer. Is that enough?
By 2022, the City of San Mateo will be required to prevent all trash from entering the Bay through the storm drains to meet mandates set by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, but who is going to help? It occurs to me that we will all pay for this trash left in the street, one way or another.
Plastic packaging has to be redesigned.
Right now the burden of dealing with plastic waste is on the consumer and they are doing a terrible job. Consumers recycled only 9.5% of plastic waste in 2014. Another 15% was combusted for energy, while 75.5% of what was collected was sent to landfills. China used to accept America's plastic waste, but no more. We need to think about how we can reduce the quantity of plastic waste, now!
Future posts will include assembly and progress on the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace and some concrete, but easy steps for reducing plastic.
Cellophane and a chapstick- February 14, 2018
Pure Fresh Spearmint Gum plastic package - February 16, 2018
"Nice" purified plastic bottle (crushed) - February 16, 2018
Plastic Bottle Cap - February 16, 2018
Plastic Dental Flosser - February 16, 2018