Art Transforms Plastic Pollution: Washed Ashore

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“I came to the ocean to heal, but found an ocean that needed healing.” That was the realization that inspired artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi to dedicate her life to saving the sea. Her medium? Trash.

When Pozzi suddenly lost her husband, she took time to look for something meaningful and constant. Her search led her back to the Oregon shores of her childhood. There, she expected to find the familiarity and predictability of crashing waves. Instead, her life found new meaning and change.

As Pozzi walked along the Pacific shores, she found piece after piece of plastic littering the sand. Passers-by collected shells nearby, leaving the pieces of trash untouched. At that moment, Pozzi decided that the problem of ocean pollution could not be left ignored. She had been an art teacher—she knew how to motivate and educate. She decided to develop the Washed Ashore project to show that the plastic problem was real.

From Trash to Art

Washed Ashore is a massive undertaking. Pozzi works with a team of only nine people. Over the year, over ten thousand independent volunteers collect scraps of trash along 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the Oregon coast. For beachgoers, Pozzi has given the process of picking up trash a new value and purpose. Already, volunteers have gathered and sorted 18 tons of garbage (equivalent to the weight of more than three elephants) since the project began in 2010. The Washed Ashore program uses about 95 percent of the waste that is collected to create eye-catching, larger-than-life sculptures of marine life.

What’s the Plastic Problem?

Ninety percent of the trash that gets collected on the beaches by the Washed Ashore volunteers is petroleum-based: nets, nylon ropes, and plastic items. That’s not surprising, given that approximately 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.

How Did This Problem Begin?

Plastic production became one of the fastest growing industries in the 1940s. In 2013 alone, some 299 million tons of plastics were produced. An average person living in Western Europe or North America consumes 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of plastic each year, mostly in the form of packaging.

Read more from Gaelle Gourmelon, Marketing and Communications Director of the Worldwatch Institute, originally published in the June issue on the Worldwatch Institute blog:

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