Artist Dianna Cohen shares some tough truths about plastic pollution in the ocean and in our lives — and some thoughts on how to free ourselves from the plastic gyre
I'm a visual artist,and I'm also one of the co-founders of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.I've been working with plastic bags,which I cut up and sew back together as my primary material for my artworkfor the last 20 years.I turn them into two and three-dimensional piecesand sculptures and installations.Upon working with the plastic, after about the first eight years,some of my work started to fissureand break down into smaller little bits of plastic.And I thought, "Great.It's ephemeral just like us."
0:44Upon educating myself a little further about plastics,I actually realized this was a bad thing.It's a bad thing that plastic breaks down into smaller little bits,because it's always still plastic.And what we're findingis that a lot of it is in the marine environment.I then, in the last few years,learned about the Pacific garbage patch and the gyre.And my initial reaction --and I think this is a lot of people's first reactionto learning about it --is, "Oh my God!We've got to go out there and clean this thing up."So I actually developed a proposalto go out with a cargo shipand two decommissioned fishing trawlers,a crane, a chipping machineand a cold-molding machine.And my intention was to go out to the gyre,raise awareness about this issueand begin to pick up the plastic,chip it into little bits and cold mold it into bricksthat could potentially be used as building materialsin underdeveloped communities.
1:41I began talking with peoplewho actually had been out to the gyreand were studying the plastic problem in the marine environmentand upon doing so,I realized actually that cleaning it upwould be a very small drop in the bucketrelative to how much is being generatedevery day around the world,and that actually I needed to back up and look at the bigger picture.And the bigger picture is:we need to find a way to turn off the faucet.We need to cut the spigotof single-use and disposable plastics,which are entering the marine environment every dayon a global scale.
2:17So in looking at that, I also realized that I was really angry.I wasn't just concerned about plasticthat you're trying to imagine out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean --of which I have learned there are now11 gyres, potentially, of plasticin five major oceans in the world.It's not just that gyre of plastic that I'm concerned about --it's the gyre of plastic in the supermarket.I'd go to the supermarket and all of my food is packaged in plastic.All of my beverages are packaged in plastic,even at the health food market.I'm also concerned about the plastic in the refrigerator,and I'm concerned about the plastic and the toxins that leach from plasticinto us and into our bodies.
2:54So I came together with a group of other peoplewho were all looking at this issue,and we created the Plastic Pollution Coalition.We have many initiatives that we're working on,but some of them are very basic.One is: if 80 to 90 percentof what we're finding in the ocean --of the marine debris that we're finding in the ocean -- is plastic,then why don't we call it what it is.It's plastic pollution.Recycling -- everybody kind of ends their booksabout being sustainable and greening with the idea of recycling.You put something in a bin and you don't have to think about it again.What is the reality of that?In the United States, less than seven percent of our plastics are recycled.And if you really look into it,particularly when it comes to plastic bottles,most of it is only down-cycled,or incinerated, or shipped to China.It is down-cycled and turned into lesser things,while a glass bottle can be a glass bottle againor can be used again --a plastic bottle can never be a plastic bottle again.
3:51So this is a big issue for us.Another thing that we're looking at and asking people to think aboutis we've added a fourth Ronto the frontof the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," three R's,and that is refuse.Whenever possible, refuse single-use and disposable plastics.Alternatives exist;some of them are very old-school.I myself am now collecting these cool Pyrex containersand using those instead of Glad and Tupperware containersto store food in.And I know that I am doing a serviceto myself and my family.It's very easy to pick up a stainless-steel bottleor a glass bottle,if you're traveling and you've forgotten to bring your stainless-steel bottleand fill that up with water or filtered water,versus purchasing plastic bottled water.
4:35I guess what I want to say to everybody here --and I know that you guys know a lot about this issue --is that this is a huge problem in the oceans,but this is a problem that we've created as consumersand we can solve.We can solve this by raising awareness of the issueand teaching people to choose alternatives.So whenever possible, to choose alternativesto single-use plastics.We can cut the stem -- tide the stem of thisinto our oceansand in doing so,save our oceans, save our planet, save ourselves.