Surreal Photos Show Impact of Plastic Pollution on One of the World's Most Beautiful Places
Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Alejandro Durán is bringing attention to the devastating environmental catastrophe of global waste and plastic pollution. In this ongoing project, Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape, the pristine beauty of Sian Ka’an—Mexico’s largest federally-protected reserve—is contrasted with colorful yet unsettling garbage collected from all over the world.
Derrame (Spill), 2010. Alejandro Durán artistically arranges colorful pieces of plastic in sites along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. Photo Credit: Alejandro Durán
"With more than 20 pre-Columbian archaeological sites, this UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to a vast array of flora and fauna and the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef," the Mexico City-native said about the site of his installation. "Unfortunately, Sian Ka’an is also a repository for the world’s trash, which is carried there by ocean currents from many parts of the globe."
Artfully strewn along Mexico's Caribbean coast are countless pieces of waste and other disposables, including plastic bottles, bottle caps, toothbrushes, light bulbs and more.
Algas (Algae), 2013. About 8 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans each year. Photo Credit: Alejandro Durán
Mar (Sea), 2013. "At times I distribute the objects the way the waves would; at other times, the plastic takes on the shape of algae, roots, rivers or fruit, reflecting the infiltration of plastics into the natural environment." Photo Credit: Alejandro Durán
Over the course of the project, Durán identified waste from 50 different countries across six continents that have surfaced along a single coastline of Sian Ka'an. As we previously reported, 8 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into world’s oceans each year, causing $13 billion in damages to marine ecosystems annually.
Vena (Vein), 2011 and Rayo (Ray), 2011. These photos bring much-needed attention to consumerism and its devastation to the environment. Photo Credit: Alejandro Durán
Durán uses this international debris to create color-based, site-specific sculptures. "Conflating the hand of man and nature, at times I distribute the objects the way the waves would; at other times, the plastic takes on the shape of algae, roots, rivers or fruit, reflecting the infiltration of plastics into the natural environment," he said.
Brotes (Shoots), 2014. Durán's work "examines the fraught intersections of man and nature, particularly the tension between the natural world and an increasingly overdeveloped one." Photo Credit: Alejandro Durán
Durán hopes to "change our relationship to consumption and waste" with his project. "More than creating a surreal or fantastical landscape, these installations mirror the reality of our current environmental predicament," he said. "The resulting photo series depicts a new form of colonization by consumerism, where even undeveloped land is not safe from the far-reaching impact of our disposable culture."
The project recently received a Juror’s Award from CENTER, which recognizes outstanding photographers working in fine art series or documentary projects. “The singular focus applied to this project is unparalleled," said juror and CNN Digital senior photo editor Bernadette Tuazon, who selected Durán’s project for the award.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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