The Plastics Project

https://www.plasticsproject.com/

In 2016, two University of Oregon students and I traveled to the barrier islands in Cordova, Alaska. What we discovered on Hinchinbrook Island were miles of beaches strewn with plastic from around the world. A toothbrush from Korea, a juice bottle from China, the sole of a shoe from Spain.  How could this island, so indiscriminate and remote, be a destination to view waste accumulation? It became apparent that the plastic that now contaminates beaches in Alaska did not originate from the state, or even the country we found them in. The irony is unblemished—you may never have access to this island, but your garbage might—its mode of travel: ocean currents.   

What ensued was an investigation and a closer look at where the plastic came from, its journey through ocean, and its implications on local environments.

We collected plastic from the beach and took it back with us to photograph. We aimed to juxtapose the plastic we found with a natural counterpart in order to highlight what should be populating the beaches of Alaska. 

A bright red rock climbing hold is made from polyurethane, a hard and durable type of plastic. Barnacles grip tightly to a smooth rock found in a tide pool.

A bright red rock climbing hold is made from polyurethane, a hard and durable type of plastic. Barnacles grip tightly to a smooth rock found in a tide pool.

A small piece of blue fishing net is broken off from the larger net. These ghost nets can entangle and trap any marine animal including sharks, turtles, and dolphins. The sharp material of the nets can lacerate the bodies of marine animals and can drown others that need to surface for air. A sprig of common horsetail, or Equisetum Arvense, was found on the beaches of Hinchinbrook Island.

A small piece of blue fishing net is broken off from the larger net. These ghost nets can entangle and trap any marine animal including sharks, turtles, and dolphins. The sharp material of the nets can lacerate the bodies of marine animals and can drown others that need to surface for air. A sprig of common horsetail, or Equisetum Arvense, was found on the beaches of Hinchinbrook Island.

The purple handle of a toothbrush has the words, “Dr. Clio,” printed on the side. The toothbrush comes from Dr. Clio, a Korean company that manufactures and distributes toothbrushes worldwide to the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. A weathered bone shows the passage of time.

The purple handle of a toothbrush has the words, “Dr. Clio,” printed on the side. The toothbrush comes from Dr. Clio, a Korean company that manufactures and distributes toothbrushes worldwide to the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. A weathered bone shows the passage of time.

A Styrofoam packing peanut is made from polystyrene which is typically white and made of expanded polystyrene beads. A new method called pyrolysis turns polystyrene into crude oil and in an excellent way to deal with the plastic waste. In the summer the tall, lilac blossoms of fireweed flowers greet visitors along the sides of the road when they arrive in Cordova. Fireweed is a resilient plant which grows after disturbances in an environment, especially fire.

A Styrofoam packing peanut is made from polystyrene which is typically white and made of expanded polystyrene beads. A new method called pyrolysis turns polystyrene into crude oil and in an excellent way to deal with the plastic waste. In the summer the tall, lilac blossoms of fireweed flowers greet visitors along the sides of the road when they arrive in Cordova. Fireweed is a resilient plant which grows after disturbances in an environment, especially fire.