On November 9, 2009 the New York Times published an article entitled “Afloat
in the Ocean, Expanding Islands of Trash”. The article begins..
“ABOARD THE ALGUITA, 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii — In
this remote patch of the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from
any national boundary, the detritus of human life is collecting
in a swirling current so large that it defies precise measurement.”
This is one of 5 such islands in our oceans. These islands are
huge repositories of the “stuff” we just throw away
and forget about.
It goes on to say.. “Light bulbs, bottle caps, toothbrushes,
Popsicle sticks and tiny pieces of plastic, each the size
of a grain of rice, inhabit the Pacific garbage patch, an area of widely
dispersed trash that doubles in size every decade and is now
believed to be roughly twice the size of Texas. But one research organization
estimates that the garbage now actually pervades the Pacific, though
most of it is caught in what oceanographers call a gyre like this
one — an
area of heavy currents and slack winds that keep the trash swirling
in a giant whirlpool.”
For over a decade now, I have been documenting the “stuff” of
our society that we use once and throw away. Americans create more
garbage, per capita, than any other culture, yet we are blind to
our waste. I have been watching the plastic bags which float through
the air along our highways, the huge receptacles of styrofoam trays
and plastic silverware in many public schools, the plastic bottles
floating in our creeks and streams. Discarded plastic “stuff” is
just everywhere, and much of it is ending up in these ocean islands.
“Only Once” is made from the plastic silverware I
have collected just by living, eating and traveling in the United
States for the past 5 years. I did not go out of my way to get any
of this. As a matter of fact, I always look for a non-plastic and
or non-disposable option. The chop sticks mostly come from my local
friendly family owned Vietnamese restaurant. My friends know of
my collection, so when we eat together they always hand over the
This collection was an experiment to see how many of these items
I would have thrown away if I had not been paying attention to them
. I think I also collected the plastic silverware because it is
kind of colorful--and much more interesting and easy to collect
than syrofoam cups or cigarette butts.
This work was an experiment in finding away to transform these
materials and to look at their consumption.
The repetitive work of drilling and tying the spoons, forks and
chopsticks was a meditation of sorts. I do not think I will continue
to collect this plastic. What I will do is try very hard not to
use any more of these items. I am already trying to remember to
never take a plastic bag from a store. I have stopped buying water
in plastic bottles.
Trying not to use disposable silverware is going to be a hard
one. The thing about plastic is that it is not biodegradable--ever,
ever, ever. It will only break down to smaller and smaller particles
as described above in our ocean of trash.
“Only Once” has been a meditation for me. It has
reminded me to be as environmentally responsible as I possibly can.
I do not have the answers here, it is just that more than ever,
I see the importance of paying attention to the world around me
and on a very personal level.