“Once there was a stone age, a bronze age, and now we are in the middle of the plastic age,” announced young Dutchman Boyan Slat in his TEDxDelft talk of 2012. “Every year we produce about 300 million tons of plastic.” And, because plastic takes hundreds if not thousands of years to decompose, it does not go away, it accumulates. Scientists estimate that humans have produced more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, much of which is now in landfills, or polluting our continents and oceans.
Due to ocean currents, plastic becomes concentrated in certain ‘gyres’, with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch the most infamous example. Far from being only a nuisance, the plastic causes significant damage to those who live in the ocean or rely on it for sustenance: birds and fish mistake the brightly colored plastic for food and consume it, causing widespread illness and death. Plastic also breaks down over time into dangerous microplastics, which are even more easily consumed. Ergo, plastic also works its way easily into our own food.
The Ocean Cleanup is an organization that was started at the initiative of Slat, who argued that it’s not only possible to clean the plastics from the ocean, it is possibly even profitable. I was greatly inspired by the talk that he gave in in 2012, in which he laid out his ambitious plans, and so I continued to follow the organization’s progress. Two years later, in June 2014, Slat announced in a follow-up TEDx talk that the feasibility study had been a success, and they were kicking off a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money to take the project into implementation.
With the desire to help spread awareness for this critical issue, I got in touch with The Ocean Cleanup to ask if they had any plastics collected from the ocean that I could use for a photography project. Since they are based in nearby Delft, I was able to pick up the plastics from their office. I then asked Aaron Tighe, a friend who’s an executive chef, to collaborate with me to produce this body of work.
The results you can see for yourself: we’ve prepared a ‘menu’ of six well-known fish dishes, with the exception that the fish has been replaced by oceanic plastic. Our goal is to strike home the imminent and ubiquitous danger of plastic pollutants, in an aesthetic, absurd, and beautifully disgusting way. Shot from the ‘diner’s eye view’, the meals sit in front of you ready to eat, and designed to look as authentic and delicious as possible… if it weren’t for the plastic, of course.
You can donate to support The Ocean Cleanup. (N.B. Dutch residents can also claim the donation as tax deductible!)