Plastic enemy number one

A painting of a plastic bottle with thoughtless written in pink next to it.
A painting of a plastic bottle with lazy written in green next to it.

Tia Grazette, London member, curator and founder of Le Good Society, talks to Ted Stansfield, Digital Editor of AnOther magazine, about turning to art for the fight against plastic pollution

By Ted Stansfield     Above images: Paul Davis .   Sunday 9 August, 2020    Short read

It’s a testament to the power of the arts that one image can cause a shift in public mood. In the case of the fight against plastic pollution, this image was of albatross chicks eating plastic in the documentary series Blue Planet II. It was a damning indictment of the impact of human activity – plastic, specifically – on the natural world. The footage – which was seen by 14 million people when it originally aired on BBC One in 2017 – aroused public concern, causing us to rethink our relationship to this material, which Sir David Attenborough himself has described as ‘wretched’.

Tia Grazette, acclaimed creative director and content director, as well as the founder of Le Good Society and the curator of a new exhibition entitled Let’s Live With Less Plastic, agrees that there has been a shift in public opinion towards plastic. ‘It’s great how much momentum has built behind the plastic pollution crisis,’ she says. ‘And how it has somewhat been accepted by the mass media and society. But there is still so far to go in the fight against plastic.’
A skip with a poster saying the world as we know it in it.
A plastic bottle containing blue water with the sea written on it in pen.
A black and white print of a man with a fish on his head.
To aid this fight, Grazette organised Let’s Live With Less Plastic. It celebrates both #PlasticFreeJuly and the tenth anniversary of the Plastiki Exhibition, whereby a boat made from 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and other recycled PET plastic and waste products sailed the Pacific Ocean. The exhibition also brings together work by artists including Sarah Maple, Todd Francis, Jeff Gillette, Dianna Cohen, Heath Kane and Illuminati Neon. Instead of hanging on gallery walls, this work is displayed on street billboards up and down the country, from London to Birmingham and Manchester to Edinburgh, encouraging people to reduce their plastic usage.

It’s a poignant time to stage an exhibition of this nature. For while momentum has built behind the plastic pollution crisis, it had been severely impacted by the pandemic. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there’s been a surge in the use of protective – but often single-use – plastic items: from masks and gloves, to bottles of hand sanitiser. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves are currently being used globally every month, the vast majority of which are single use and cannot be recycled. This is despite scientific evidence that COVID-19 lasts on plastic longer than any other material.

‘Now more than ever we need to remind everyone how important it is to limit their plastic usage, and what better way to do this than through art?’ says Grazette of the exhibition, prints from which are available to buy via the Le Good Society website. ‘More and more people have put plastic-free thoughts to the back of their minds as they deal with the urgency of the pandemic. But plastic pollution continues to escalate at a dramatic rate, especially now that disposable masks and gloves have been thrown into the equation.’

‘Many people have ditched their plastic morals to cope with more pressing issues related to COVID-19, creating an unprecedented challenge in the fight against plastic pollution, with many countries deciding to delay or reverse bans on single-use plastic items,’ she continues. ‘For example, the UK has delayed its ban on plastic straws. But we need to keep pushing forward with reducing our plastic usage.’
A mound of plastic items with a pink bear drowning in it.
Grazette herself has been interested in environmental issues since she was a child, growing up in a garden full of homegrown fruit and vegetables, and with grandparents who encouraged her to reuse anything she could. Spending time abroad, seeing cultures that live in greater harmony with the natural world, only served to intensify this interest. But it wasn’t until she worked on the Plastiki Exhibition that plastic became the focus of her environmental concern.

‘Plastic is everywhere – it’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the clothes we wear,’ she says. ‘I don’t think people realise the extent to which it not only harms the environment, but also has serious health implications and how easy it is to start reducing your plastic usage. Even if you hardly use another plastic bag or water bottle again, that will have such a massive impact itself.’

So does she have any tips for reducing our plastic usage? Grazette says it’s about keeping it simple: identifying the single-use items we use most commonly and working out how to give them up. She also name-checks some brands – from Georganics, who sell plastic-free toothbrushes and toothpaste, to Ethique and Lush, who offer a wide range of plastic-free soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and other products.

I ask Grazette if she sees signs of hope in this war against plastic pollution and, thankfully, she does. ‘More and more people are becoming aware of it, and climate change. And they’re taking responsibility by implementing changes to their daily lives themselves, as well as demanding that something is done,’ she says. ‘Governments and corporations are also trying to tackle [these issues] as they become more and more acceptable and popular – I just hope it’s not too late.’
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