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Attacking the Oceanic Garbage Gyres with…Art?!

| Friday January 7th, 2011 | 4 Comments

Plastic, to most people, is just a vehicle to carry their groceries, contain their soda or water, and serve as a utensil for their lunch. But as you and I know, the disposal of it is a hugely problematic issue, much of it accumulating in the ocean in enormous islands, or gyres, either continuing to accumulate or reducing to tiny pieces, ending up consumed by sea creatures and ultimately us.

I was shocked to find out that there’s not just one gyre but five. It’s a threat, not only to the creatures that live in the ocean, but also to those of us (read everybody else) who depend on a healthy ocean to support life as we’re accustomed to it.

It’s enough to just get depressed and feel helpless. Or, you can be part of “Waves for Change.”

This contest, sponsored by outdoor/sustainability focused Wend Magazine and Chaco footwear, is a rare opportunity to join the 5 Gyres sailing crew on a voyage from Tahiti to the Cook Islands, to see gyres in person. 5 Gyres is a group whose mission is, “…to conduct research and communicate about the global impact of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and employ strategies to eliminate the accumulation of plastic pollution in the 5 subtropical gyres.”

This is not just idle talk. They have traveled to and documented these gyres, bringing along scientists, journalists, and others to join the crew. 5 Gyres shares its findings widely, via print and television, websites, blogs, presentations and outreach at schools. A traveling exhibit about plastic pollution is making its way to museums, science centers and aquariums.

The Waves of Change contest broadens the reach of the message in an interesting way: Entrants are asked to submit art between now and March 13th that reflects our society’s addiction to single use plastic. The first example shows the creative, humorous, impactful way this could look: Sushi To Die For shows what initially looks like your average sushi – but it’s made entirely out of plastic waste.

The weekly prizes of Chaco and Klean Kanteen gear will certainly draw people, but there’s something bigger afoot here:

In finding innovative, engaging ways to draw attention to and personalize something that for many feels too enormous to do something about, meaningful change is possible here. From individuals who choose to forgo single use plastic, to communities and governments who take action to reduce or eliminate such plastics use and availability.

Art has been used as a bridge to educate about plastic impacts for some time, whether it’s Chico Bag’s “Bag Monster” or the recent Jay Z inspired “Plastic State of Mind” music video. But this contest stands to be even more powerful, as our social media fluent world means entrants and their networks sharing the art they create, multiplying the impact.

Art is great, but what’s actually directly happening about this issue?

To this, 5 Gyres says: “To eliminate plastic pollution we employ strategies that work.  To stop the flow of plastic to the sea we advocate new materials, better designed products, fair legislation, and engage in consumer education.  Post-consumer cleanup efforts focus on coastal and island debris removal and mitigation.”

Though definitely proactive, it doesn’t sound like 5 Gyres as yet are taking action directly on the gyres themselves. And recent research shows that the actual scale of the gyres and the cleanup is far from straightforward. However, 5 Gyres efforts to draw attention to and bring in people who can catalyze action happening will likely accelerate gyre reduction commencing sooner then it would otherwise.

Readers: Where else do you see environmental issues being raised in public awareness in a different, more effective way than previously? Share below please.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.


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  • Park Chapman

    In order to impprove recycling, we need to reduce the number of types of plastic we are producing. Anyone at PPC know any way of doing this?

  • http://www.onemoregeneration.org OMG Kids

    Thanks for posting this. Check out what these two kids are doing to help make a difference regarding Plastic Bag use:


    Also check out these links:

    The folks from KooDooZ are going to help us set up a Nation-Wide challenge for kids to get involved with and more than likely it will be with the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoots Foundation.

    And the folks from the IS Foundation might be partnering with us on our Plastic Bag Ban Initiative so we can raise awareness to the problem plastic bags are causing to our environment and to endangered species .



    Have a great weekend and we hope to hear from you soon;-)


    • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

      It’s encouraging to see action happening across many generations. Keep it up everybody!

  • http://lemon-beagles.com Lola

    Whatever works. If turning it from floating litter to art gets it out of the ocean, then I’m all for it.