How a 'trash-to-treasure' mentality can change plastic waste
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Confession time, I have been procrastinating and trying to turn a blind eye towards the impact of single-use plastic waste on our environment. Partial, reluctance to commit to the inconvenience of making a lifestyle change is to blame. On the other hand, living in a 'Cleaned' city of Singapore does not let you see the glaring issues unless you make a conscious effort. In an article, Tembusu Asia Consulting highlighted that Singapore uses about 2.5 billion plastic bags a year. Another wake-up call was my recent visit to Himachal Pradesh, India. We were in the middle of nature, with beautiful mountains and rivers in the wilderness, however, the plastic waste was constantly following us wherever we went. I must say India looked way cleaner than what it used to be earlier, but the issue is the people (that is another topic for another day) for now let me not disgrace. None of the facts were new, but they were overly pronounced and made me rethink my habits. Just not littering and disposing of waste responsibly is no more enough. I had to reduce my consumption of plastic. I had to be responsible for the plastic I am using and more importantly how I am disposing of the plastic. I am hoping that the ripple effect of my actions will also encourage people to do the right thing.
Frankly speaking, I did not know where to begin. I started with the baby steps for example - say no to plastic bags, and plastic cutlery, reduce takeaways or take your utensils for takeaways, buy from the wet markets and take the old-fashioned cotton fridge/organiser bags to separate the vegetables. I am sure slowly and steadily these baby steps would get ingrained and we will gradually improve in reducing my family's footprints of creating plastic waste.
It is so important to note that by replacing plastic with something else, we are not exactly reducing our impact. For example, the current trend is to replace plastic bags with cotton tote bags. Undoubtedly the intention is good however, the common public is so misled. The tote bags have just become walking advertisements for big and small brands. Totes are cheap and they are made easily available. If I count, probably my household itself will have 20 odd tote bags. Before becoming aware of the issue I thought I am making an environmentally friendly move. The trick is in focusing on the word REDUCE. It is simple if we consume less there will be less waste to deal with.
Researchers say that we’d have to use reusable cotton bags hundreds of times before they become the better choice over single-use alternatives. Cotton is a resource-intensive crop. A 2018 study showed that even an organic cotton tote needs to be used a whopping 20,000 times to offset the impact of its production.
Moreover, the cotton totes usually have prints on them. These use PVC dyes which are not easily biodegradable, rendering them effectively not recyclable. They are more of a marketing success than an environmental triumph.
The newfound willingness to reduce the impact is infectious. The times when I have forgotten to carry a bag from home and had no option but to take the plastic bag, the guilt of my action lingers till I recycle the plastic.
From saying no to plastic, I was already eager to be more impactful by reusing & recycling plastic. The obvious choice was to use it as a medium in my artwork. Initial explorations began with photographing single-use plastic bags in the studio with some basic light setup, then processing these photos using Adobe Lightroom. The process evolved and soon though it was not intended these abstract photographs of plastic, strangely resembled ocean life. However, these shapes are not intentional and I am quite curious to see how new shapes emerge from every photo shoot. I will later share the photography & editing process separately. The entire processing of the photographs is done within Lightroom and there is manipulation involved other than playing with the colour balance, hue and saturation, and some other basic attributes.
After the first batch of photographic explorations, I was left with the plastic that was a reminder of the photoshoot. Hence I start toying with the idea to reuse plastic bags in physical form in the artwork to ensure it does not end up in landfills or get incinerated. This led me to experiment with fusing single-use plastic bags and other plastic waste to create small art pieces.
The process is meditative and highly satisfying. The process involves heat to fuse the single-use plastic and then cut/carve it to create intricate patterns and shapes. Then they are stacked to achieve the desired aesthetic balance. The idea is to gradually scale these efforts and help reuse the waste by making something that is not only beautiful but acts as a constant reminder of our choices and their impact on the environment.