Folks, this is about my "consumption" of plastic over the next year. I'm looking at what I have, what I buy, and why I seem to need this hundred and fifty year old man-made concoction more than my mother's fried chicken.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Weeks 28-30: Leave a Trace

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of going to Jacks Bay on a community outreach with the Island School and Deep Creek Middle School students. I was asked to come along because of my interest in plastics and I jumped at the opportunity. The activity involved splitting up into groups of 2-3 and combing the beach for plastics. With their collections, the students built either something “practical” or “ornamental” in 15 minutes. Once the creations were completed, I or Professor D was hailed to document their creations through video. We then took photographs of the deconstruction of their creations. As Dr. D said, “it’s kind of like a twisted version of the Leave No Trace." Most students enjoyed taking everything apart, but a few felt a little moral twitch about throwing the trash back on the beach.

Plastigirl was my first subject. She was made from various 5-gallon bucket pieces, a shampoo bottle right arm and a soda bottle left arm, polypro rope & netting legs and a broken barrel stomach in which you could see her stomach contents. If anyone exhibits the cliché, “you are what you eat”, its Plastigirl. Her stomach was filled with more polypro rope, zip ties, a fancy shampoo bottle cap, and part of an ice cream tub.
Then came Mr. Person. Mr. was a simple man, with an F-style jug head, bottle cap eyes & nose, and a glow stick mouth…I feel a reprise of “Frosty the Snowman” coming on. Homemade funnel ears, bucket piece arms & legs, and a plastic necktie made from heaven only knows what.
The next group created a game. There were 3 containers each with different diameter openings and the object was to get various plastic scraps into the containers, with the smaller bottle openings earning more points than the larger ones.

And then there was the waterfall made from 2 broken pieces of the same lawn chair delicately balanced on the bottom half of an olive oil jug. Minimalist, balanced, thoughtful, and oh-so-versatile (they informed me that you didn’t have to send water down the fall…you could send sand, marbles, ducklings, or whatever gravity would allow). It also travels well.

I then journeyed down the beach to Plasti-city. This city didn’t have much, but it had the essentials: a baseball field and a place to wash your hair. As you can see from the photo, there was plenty of netting to catch fly balls.

Another group created a plastic dog and put it in a cage (because it was being a bad dog). I didn’t have the heart to tell them that wiener dogs don’t always make the best pets.
Anyway, when Dr. D asked them to deconstruct their creation, the students were a bit hesitant. “You mean, you want us to put everything BACK on the beach and in the bushes? Shouldn’t we have a trash can for all of it?” “Nope,” said Dr. D, “I want you to leave everything exactly as you found it.”

So, it got me thinking about deconstruction and the book Cradle to Cradle by Bill McDonough & Michael Braungart. How do we take from the earth with the intention of returning it back in the same shape & form we found it? Why is it taking us so long to turn this shipwreck of a mentality around?

In my dream vacation, I am walking along a beautifully polluted beach with the CEO’s of Sysco, Mattel, Solo, American Plastics, McDonald’s, and all the others. We have a few drinks and we talk about the cradle to grave mentality that has lead to the state of this beach. We talk about this beach and all others that are the proverbial backside of industrial processes. We start out using limited materials from the earth, tinker them into the unnatural, tout their value to the masses, convince ourselves that we cannot possibly survive without Barbie knee pads, then proceed to convince ourselves that we cannot possibly live WITH the Barbie knee pads, dispose of them through a number of ways, and boom…Malibu Beach Barbie. And the earth knows nothing about how to digest Barbie knee pads. So, we talk about how to make our stuff digestible for the earth since these CEO’s & their companies will eventually be responsible for their product when the customer is “done” with it. I know…it’s kind of an intense dream vacation, but we must be dreaming if we think our stuff just disappears into the earth. And there is no vacation from our waste stream.

Can we start tracing our stuff back to its rightful owners; these companies that use their own version of Leave No Trace? Is there a trace of responsibility, ownership, or forethought into the final resting place of their processes or product?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weeks 24-27: Message in a plastic bottle

Has anyone seen my shoe? It was just here a second ago...
It must be on a beach somewhere in Eleuthera: the lost shoe capital of the world.

This has been the fastest month of my life. I didn't realize that repeatedly saying "I need to do my blog post tomorrow" would actually turn out to be 30 days from the last post.

Anyway, last weekend I took a day off and went to Lighthouse Beach at the southern tip and did some spontaneous beach combing. And do you know what I found? Combs...on the beach. Very surreal. I spotted at least two of them. Here is everything else I found...
  • baby doll carcass
  • baby doll head (found a few hundred yards away)
  • 10+ 5-gallon buckets (2 from Chevron)
  • Barbie knee pad
  • 3 hard hats (red, white & blue)
  • unknown tube container things (5' long/8" diameter)
  • polypro rope & netting of every thickness, length, & color
  • thermoses
  • coolers
  • laundry baskets
  • high heel shoe
  • HDPE pipe
  • Haitian butter tubs
  • cherub
  • irrigation tubing
  • chair back
  • half of a lawn chair
  • milk crates
  • cable insulation
  • bread crates
  • buoys
  • unknown piece of plastic- "Made in Maine"
  • flip flops
  • snorkel fins
  • running shoes
  • welding mask
  • soda bottles
  • olive oil jugs
  • a Hatian prison tray
  • fishing line
  • computer board sandwiched between polystyrene (3 of them)

The whole beach combing experience is what I would call comically apocalyptic...or maybe apocalyptically comical. It looked almost intentional. Like someone strategically and delicately scattered all of these objects evenly on the beach. I remember looking for shells and shark teeth when I was younger and now I am a scavenger of plastic. Finding a plastic object on the beach 15 years ago was kind of a unique find. Now, plastic is part of our landscape. And by "our", I mean everyone in the whole wide world. My guess is that many if not most children have never seen an unpolluted beach.

The beach is my refuge--my place of release, solitude, and transformation. It is also the proverbial rug of the world under which we sweep everything. The places that I hold most sacred are just not what they used to be. So, how do I come from this despair?

I have no idea. So, I just started mining the beach.

I brought back 3 bread crates, a giant drum (a future worm bin for composting), the welding mask, 2 of the buckets, and the barbie knee pad. The most useful of which is...that's right, the barbie knee pad. It's great for all my sweet dance moves.

My new version of Message in a (plastic) bottle:

Just a castaway, a bucket lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with plastic around me, oh
More polypro than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh

A year has passed since I lost my crate
But I should have known this right from the start
Only rope can keep it together
Plastic can help your life but
it can break apart

Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw
Hundred billion flip flops washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone in losing my freight
Hundred billion unmatched shoes, looking for a mate...

I'll send an SOS to the world
I'll send an SOS to the world...

What's on your beach?