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Positive Plastics

The sea is full of plastic. It’s bad for both the environment and human beings. Two women are trying to make us more aware of the suffering that we are causing and the alternatives – using two completely different but extremely positive methods.

Thirza Schaap

Photographer Thirza Schaap works for various media. She also creates beautiful still lifes made from rubbish found on beaches across the world.

Thirza: ‘I love the beach, but on my walks I began to notice that the amount of rubbish lying around and washed up on the shore was increasing. During holidays to Bali and Mexico, I also began to notice the rubbish more and more. There are mountains of plastic next to idyllic beaches and stray bits of plastic in rice fields. It’s awful, but fascinating at the same time – both the quantity and how beautiful the rubbish becomes with the effects of the wind, sea and sand. When the colours become white dots and when shells start forming, for example.

During my beach walks, I started collecting and throwing away all the rubbish. Later, I captured the items I found for a kind of ‘before and after’. However I photographed the rubbish, it still looked disgusting. The beauty that I saw in it just wasn’t being conveyed. So I took the litter home, where I made up compositions on the floor and on coloured sheets. Funnily enough, I previously enjoyed producing still lifes at the academy, but in my career as a photographer I switched to photographing people. In the meantime, I had forgotten how much I also enjoy producing still lifes. That’s what I’m really passionate about. Searching and moving the objects around until you find the right image – that really appeals to me. It’s almost a kind of meditation – just being on your own for a while.

Nowadays, I also make sculptures by gluing them together. Before, I produced sculptures that I took apart again after taking a photo or displaying them in an exhibition. By gluing them, the sculptures last longer. I certainly want to convey a message through my work. We need to be aware that it’s up to us. It’s great waiting for government regulations, as with the plastic bags, but we don’t have time to do that any more. Take a look at yourself and see what you can change to reduce the burden on the environment. Ask yourself at the supermarket: am I going to choose prepacked cucumbers or unpackaged cauliflower? Every little helps.

I lead a totally different lifestyle from the one I led ten years ago. I’m aware of the impact I make as a human being and as a consumer. I take my basket and do my shopping once a week at the market. That way, I avoid using unnecessary packaging. If I want something new, I sleep on it. Nine out of ten times, I decide I don’t need it. My goal is to create awareness of the fact that your rubbish is also in the sea. I don’t do it in a crude way, by capturing dead animals with stomachs full of plastic. People often find that too confrontational. I try to attract people’s attention by finding the beauty in something very unpleasant. It’s a contradiction, but I’m hoping that it works.’

Thirza Schaap’s work is available for viewing and purchase at Up to do good in Schiphol Plaza. The exhibition begins on 3 March and will be running for a year, plastic-ocean.net, Instagram: @thirzaschaap

 

Maartje Dros

Designer Maartje Dros has produced caps for rum bottles out of soft drink labels found floating in the sea. But recycling plastic didn’t prove all that easy. She found an alternative in seaweed.

‘I was born on Texel. The beach has played a huge role in my life since I was a child. You can get fresh air, let go of your thoughts and withdraw for a while. The Netherlands has the most beautiful beaches – in that sense, we’re really lucky. It never gets too warm here, and we have wide, open beaches. Our beaches have a lot of potential. Living on an island, nature enters your life from all directions and I’m lucky to be able to work there.

I studied at Design Academy Eindhoven, just like my partner, Eric. There, you are taught that you gain the most knowledge by doing your own research, following your intuition and substantiating why you are doing something. You learn to look for people with knowledge about things you don’t understand. By bring everything together, you gain new knowledge.

Eric worked a lot with robotics and soon moved onto 3D printing. Everything that comes out is made from plastic. During a study trip in India, he saw what recycling really means: in the slums, whole families, including children, sort plastic waste in their homes. It’s everywhere: on the roof, in the living room… The smell was unbearable – they were all toxic fumes. Only 3-4% of all plastic is actually recyclable, and the rest is pure waste that we can’t get rid of. And we’re poisoning ourselves with it. This raised the question: does everything need to be produced on such a large scale? Can’t we produce things more locally and in smaller units? What do we actually need all that plastic for? How do we use it?

Through another project, we happened to come into contact with Stichting Noordzeeboerderij. Their work involves investigating how to use the sea differently, for example in food production. Anything that doesn’t need to be cultivated on land can have another meaning – especially in places where there is no fertile soil. They came up with the question of whether seaweed is something we could use. Seaweed can be used to produce food for plants, meaning you no longer need to use manure. The residual fibre is a suitable material to replace plastic, for example. It doesn’t last as long, but you don’t need to use everything forever. Eventually, you can put it into the ground and it will turn into food once again. It’s fully circular, with the added advantage that the last residual flow is drinking water. This means you can think about smaller, local production units that take you to deserts – areas where there is a need for clean drinking water. Local factories can then feed their environment instead of polluting it. By thinking from a different perspective, you can come up with solutions that you may previously have thought impossible. Plastic isn’t bad, but you don’t need to use it for everything. That’s what we’ve come to realise. If we all think about the materials that our products are made from and ask ourselves whether there are alternatives available, we’ll make a lot of progress.’

maartjedros.nl

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