Turning Pollution into Art: Washed Ashore

Plastic pollution poses one of the greatest threats to the marine environment, but one Oregon non-profit is turning this trash into art.

Along with climate change, over-fishing and habitat destruction, plastic pollution is one of the greatest threats to ocean health. Oregon-based non-profit Washed Ashore is shining a spotlight on the situation by collecting debris from America’s beaches and using it to create artworks designed to raise awareness about man-made pollution.

The sculptures of monumental sea creatures are stitched together under the guidance of artistic and executive director Angela Haseltine Pozzi from carefully collected and collated pieces of trash. Ranging from great white sharks to octopus and triggerfish, the sculptures are both colorful and incredibly lifelike, drawing the attention of passersby, encouraging them to find out more about the project and the origin of the materials. By showcasing the sculptures in a series of traveling exhibitions, the charity hopes to thrust plastic pollution into the public spotlight.

Stemming the Tide

Changing the way that people think about plastic pollution is key when it comes to finding a solution, as approximately 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources. Human beings release the equivalent of one garbage truck full of trash into the ocean every single minute, according to a report released by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen McArthur Foundation. Equating to 8.8 million tons of plastic per year, statistics like these have led researchers to predict that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

Plastics now pollute every marine habitat, from the shallowest estuaries to the deepest ocean trenches. They take hundreds of years to degrade, if at all. During this time, items may claim the lives of countless sea creatures as a result of entanglement or ingestion. When plastics finally do degrade, they release toxic chemicals. Primary organisms absorb these, causing contamination throughout the food chain. By offering educational workshops alongside their exhibitions, Washed Ashore hopes to increase awareness of these often unseen effects.

Volunteer Cleanups

There is more to Washed Ashore than beautiful artworks and high-visibility publicity, however. Much of the charity’s work happens behind the scenes, with volunteer beach clean-ups that not only provide artistic material, but also help remove significant amounts of trash from the marine environment. Since the organization launched in 2010, more than 10,000 volunteers have helped process 38,000 pounds of marine debris. Washed Ashore used 95 percent of this debris in the sculptures, creating more than 60 so far.

Of the 300 million pounds of plastic produced globally every year, less than 10 percent is recycled. Washed Ashore hopes to change that statistic, by encouraging consumers to take a closer look at their own plastic-related behavior. Current exhibits include a 17-sculpture installation at the Smithsonian National Zoo, and a 13-sculpture installation at Georgia Aquarium.

For more information on how to become a Washed Ashore volunteer, click here.