After spending a few months collecting marine debris on Connecticut shorelines as part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant, I’m more cognizant than ever that there is no “away”. Sure, we throw things away all the time… but at best this means they are incinerated or buried in a landfill. More often than not they are simply left to wend their way through our skies, streets, and waters until they sink into the ocean or are carried by tides and winds to some shore.
My students and I collected for approximately eight hours off-season in Connecticut in the winter of 2016 and found over 1,600 individual pieces of debris. Seventy-four percent (74%) of what we found was plastic (by number of pieces). Plastic made up 18% of the total by weight. Think about that. Think about how light plastic is in comparison to the other kinds of debris like glass, metal, wood.
Here’s a photo of some of the plastic cups and bottles we found in Connecticut in April of 2016.
In response to my environmental work, I’ve tried to be more aware of the plastic in my home. Don’t get me wrong, plastic is a miraculous invention– it’s lightweight, inexpensive, and incredibly useful. But at the same time, it’s a resource that should be used responsibly.
My artwork has begun to reflect my desire to find a purpose for these materials. Some of my most recent pieces are collographs. These have been printed by hand or with a homemade bottle jack press.
I’m still trying to get the hang of the press and the material, but I like the results so far. These are quite rough, but I hope this summer to make many more and really get the hang of that press.
Do you like to collect debris when visiting beaches? Check out the marine debris tracker app from the University of Georgia.
Learn more about NOAA’s Marine Debris Outreach and Education program here.