Friday, January 1, 2010

Plastic in the Ocean, by Sharon Beals

At even the most pristine beaches, we can see the evidence of the enormous amount of plastic that lives, forever, in our oceans, killing birds, and fish, as the plastic never breaks down. Blending with plankton, it now replaces it in their diets. Large objects are mistaken for fish and fed to the young who starve on this toxic diet.

The material in these photographs was gathered in casual collecting on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, which at first observation looked clean. Closer examination revealed the array of small and large pieces of plastic, styrofoam, netting, fishing line, rope, balloons and their ribbons, and plastic bags, along with the ensnared birds. I curated the trash into arrangements by color or theme and made huge prints for a window show at Big Think Studios. It was a way to get people to stop and look and think about the stuff we consume and how where it ends up.

Sharon Beals, 2010

Ten Easy Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint

  1. Carry reusable cloth bags with you when you go shopping. Keep a few in your purse, car, or briefcase and use them instead of plastic shopping bags. At some grocery stores, you will actually get a discount for bringing your own bag.
  2. Avoid buying bottled water. Carry a stainless steel water bottle with you, use water fountains, or drink filtered tap water. There can be residues in water stored in plastic that can mimic estrogen.
  3. Bring your coffee mug to work and to the coffee shop. A reusable thermos or coffee mug is easy to transport and durable. Using one will help cut down on Styrofoam cups and plastic lids.
  4. Use wax paper bags and aluminum foil instead of Ziploc bags and plastic wrap. Aluminum foil and wax paper are recyclable and can also add more protection to your food than plastic wrap. Also consider storing leftovers in a bowl with a plate over it instead of using plastic wrap.
  5. Don't use straws or plastic lids on your take-out beverages. Most of the time you don't really need a lid or a straw, especially if you are staying in a restaurant to eat. Straws were the third most common item found last year during the International Coastal Cleanup and can choke seabirds and other marine animals.
  6. Resist the urge to wrap your produce in plastic. Most produce, like a bunch of bananas or a head of broccoli, is already bundled. If you plan on washing your fruits and veggies when you get home, there is no need to put them in individual plastic bags.
  7. Use a bar of soap instead of liquid soap that comes in a plastic bottle. This is one of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic footprint. Bars of soap are often less expensive, last longer, and work just as well for washing your hands and body.
  8. Avoid using plastic utensils. Bring your own with you to work if you often take out food. If you need to buy disposable utensils for an event, look for biodegradable alternatives made out of potato or corn starch. These can easily be composted.
  9. Choose products made out of natural fibers and recyclable materials and avoid excess plastic or Styrofoam packaging. Spread the word by telling your retailer about your preference for recyclable and compostable materials. Make an effort to recycle all plastic products and packaging when you do buy them. Styrofoam peanuts and take-out containers should be totally avoided since there are many recyclable alternatives. Styrofoam is not recyclable and takes thousands of years to break down in a landfill.
  10. If you see plastic litter on the street, in a creek or pond, please pick it up. Plastic is harmful to animals and can choke or kill them. When plastic starts to break down, it releases harmful toxins that pollute waterways. Do your part to help care for our watersheds.


  1. Dear Thea,

    The irony in all this is that what was collected and then with artistry arranged to become a work of art, is killing the innocent creatures with whom we share Mother Earth with.

    Your advice as to what we can do is admirable and I can only hope that those who visit your blog will take it to heart and practice these suggestions. I would also hope that it would also be passed along to others and especially a younger impressionable generation.

    Thank you for sharing and I wish you all the very best for 2010,

  2. I spend my summers on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and during my walks I see the results of our plastic world. Beaches are the dumps of our consumer society. All the things that make our life easier end up marring the beauty of nature and putting all forms of wildlife at risk. I have a large collection of photographs that document this. Many of the tangles I see contain remnants of plastic fishing net which is particularly dangerous for getting caught up in.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post and your tips for reducing plastic consumption. I find I have to constantly monitor my behaviour along these lines.

    I look forward to visiting your blog in future.

  3. Great photos with such an important message. Thank you for all of the tips. This is so important!

  4. Thanks for posting this list of alternative actions, Thea. Plastic is such a difficult habit to kick. I've been bringing my canvas bags to the store for years, but then just put my produce in plastic so often. I tell myself that it's not so bad because I wash and re-use the plastic bags, but eventually they do end up in the garbage. I just bought some mesh bags with drawstrings at the top designed for produce. Another habit to nurture! Thanks for sharing Sharon Beals' work- I absolutely adored her nest series a while back...