How ocean trash be­came Greta the Great White Shark

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

An­gela Hasel­tine Pozzi’s a-ha mo­ment came when she was walk­ing along her beloved south­ern Ore­gon beach and saw a “mo­saic of plas­tic” – pieces so small she re­al­ized they were turn­ing into sand.

“I al­ways felt that the ocean was some­thing that would never change, that would al­ways be the same and be that beau­ti­ful con­stant, serene beau­ti­ful place. And I was hor­ri­fied to know that we were re­ally hurt­ing the ocean so much, so I re­ally de­cided that my mis­sion in my life was go­ing to have to be to save the ocean,” she said with a laugh.

The artist and art teacher founded Washed Ashore (washedasho­re. org) in 2009 at age 51. It has cre­ated 75 works of art from 22 tons of trash washed up on the Ore­gon coast­line to call at­ten­tion to ocean pol­lu­tion. Pozzi has done this with help from a staff of 10 and more than 14,000 volunteers. Twenty pieces are on dis­play at the Clin­ton Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter in Lit­tle Rock un­til Oct. 27.

How big is the prob­lem? Her web­site says the world pro­duces 300 mil­lion pounds of plas­tic an­nu­ally, and less than 10 per­cent is re­cy­cled. In some places over­seas, trash-in­fested rivers are pour­ing plas­tic into the ocean. Some of the plas­tic litter in Arkansas’ re­cently flooded ar­eas likely will end up in the sea.

Plas­tic is not biodegrad­able and can take hun­dreds of years to dis­in­te­grate (turn into tiny plas­tic pieces). Sea crea­tures mis­take it for food and eat it, so it enters the food chain. Ocean cur­rents have cre­ated the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of Texas, be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii.

There are four other garbage patches world­wide. Trash in­clud­ing a plas­tic bag has been found in the Mar­i­ana Trench seven miles below the sur­face.

Pozzi walked me through the art on dis­play at the Clin­ton Cen­ter. Each was pro­duced us­ing only plas­tic and other trash, the only ad­di­tion be­ing screws and wire. Noth­ing is painted be­cause plas­tic comes in all col­ors.

Among the creations is Eli the Eel, made with pip­ing and an inner tube along with a tail made from a Ja­panese vil­lage marker that floated to Ore­gon af­ter a tsunami. A bleached out “coral reef” was con­structed with white sty­ro­foam and other trash.

Across from it is a mul­ti­color

“reef at risk” made from shoes, chair parts, chew­ing to­bacco cans and many other items.

One of the largest creations is Greta the Great White Shark, whose mouth and nose are com­posed of shot­gun shells, a gas mask, a flash­light and other items.

“People al­ways say, ‘You know, what’s the strangest thing?’ I’ve pro­cessed so much garbage that noth­ing’s un­usual to me,” she said.

One of her pieces, “The Plas­tic Tribe,” fea­tures cer­e­mo­nial masks made from trash. Its plaque says hu­mans “wor­ship” plas­tic.

I asked her how lit­er­ally she meant that.

“Well, you know, that is a strong word, but I think that … we feel lost with­out it,” she said. “I feel like we are be­holden to it. We are de­pen­dent on it.”

You can go on­line and find “zero waste” people who pro­duce vir­tu­ally no trash. Pozzi doesn’t ex­pect that of her­self or others. In­stead, she re­duces, reuses, re­fuses and re­cy­cles.

(China and other coun­tries won’t ac­cept our trash any­more, so re­cy­cling isn’t such an au­to­matic easy an­swer any­more.)

She car­ries a wa­ter bot­tle with her so she doesn’t need throw­away plas­tic ones, the most com­mon item that washes ashore. When of­fered a plas­tic bag at the Clin­ton Cen­ter, she in­stead asked for a pa­per one.

She says en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists of­ten fail when they take an us vs. them ap­proach, so she’s not anti-cor­po­ra­tion. Corporatio­ns will be part of the solution given the prof­its that will come from plas­tic al­ter­na­tives. One ex­am­ple that’s al­ready com­ing: Kroger is phas­ing out plas­tic bags. I’ve started car­ry­ing re­us­able bags wher­ever I gro­cery shop. Among the up­sides is fewer and bet­ter or­ga­nized bags to carry to and from the car.

Plas­tics pol­lu­tion is an un­de­ni­able prob­lem. We can see the trash on the beach, the road­side and the park­ing lot. And once you’re aware of it, it’s hard to un­see. Washed Ashore is ad­mirably ed­u­cat­ing the world about our threat­ened oceans. But hope­fully it will soon go out of busi­ness for lack of ma­te­ri­als, and Pozzi can make art from some­thing else she finds at the beach.

Maybe sand. The real kind.

•••

Steve Brawner is a syn­di­cated colum­nist in Arkansas and for­mer manag­ing ed­i­tor of The Saline

Courier. Email him at brawn­er­[email protected] Fol­low him

on Twit­ter @steve­brawner.

STEVE BRAWNER

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