Turn Off the Plastic Tap

“Globally, an average of eight million tons of plastic escapes collection systems, winding up in the environment and eventually the ocean.”

“Turn Off the Plastic Tap” by Benjamin Von Wong

“Benjamin Von Wong’s latest art-as-activism installation looks like something Photoshopped onto reality. A large brass-looking faucet, suspended in the air, pours a river of plastic out of its spout,” writes Joe McCarthy in Global Citizen. Von Wong’s art is a vivid and powerful statement on our plastic pollution crisis.

Plastic pollution is overwhelming our marine and land ecosystems and pervades our food system, water sources and each breath of air. Its virtually everywhere, in the form of obvious litter wherever we look but also insidiously as micro-plastics that now flow in our arteries and veins.

“Few countries are able to effectively sort through and recycle plastic waste,” writes McCarthy. “As a result, it gets sent to landfills and shipped around the world in a sort of hot-potato game of pollution. I write about the hot-potato game of the waste stream and recycling myth in “Where Our Recycling Really Goes” and “When Rcycling is Just a Business—Not Part of a World Solution”

“Even though awareness of plastic pollution has never been greater,” writes McCarthy, “the problem continues to worsen.” McCarthy  talks about how the COVID-19 pandemic increased plastic consumption in the US by 300%. Part of this has been due to various types of medical gear such as single-use personal protective equipment but also due to imposed restrictions that precluded alternatives to plastics for the general public. My own campaign to curb use of single-use plastics was curtailed when I was no longer permitted to use my own takeaway cup at cafes or my own bag or personal containers at the store. It seemed like all the progress we’d made as individuals was destroyed in one swoop by that nasty little virus. With some reduced restrictions in some places, we are able to take those steps again.  But, over the next decade, plastic production is still expected to increase by 40%.

“We’re kind of at the breaking point where we’re incapable of processing all the plastic that we produce. And so, we need to go back to the source and stop producing so much in the first place.” 

Benjamin Von Wong

“It’s sort of like if the bath or the sink was overflowing with water and instead of trying to shut the water off, you’re just cleaning up the mess and hoping that it’s gonna be enough,” Von Wong said.

“That is the symbolism of #TurnOffThePlasticTap.” The tap metaphor also suggests our personal role and responsibility in the plastic stream; we have the power as individuals to turn off that tap by choosing against single plastic use. By saying “no straw please” when ordering drinks. By using reusable tote bags when shopping. By wearing natural fibres. By carrying your own coffee mug, water bottle and cutlery.

“What draws me to the subject of overconsumption is the sheer volume of it,” Von Wong said. “It’s something we see and touch and interface with every day and it’s become almost invisible to us. And I guess what I try to do is take these ordinary things that we kind of forget about and make them extraordinary so you can shift your perspective. “something we see and touch and interface with every day and it’s become almost invisible to us. And I guess what I try to do is take these ordinary things that we kind of forget about and make them extraordinary so you can shift your perspective.”

(visual artist Benjamin Von Wong)

plastic sea and mermaid by Benjamin Von Wong

“I’m always looking for exciting ways to make the boring problem of plastic pollution more interesting,” Von Wong writes. Previously, he’s created an 11-foot wave made from 168,000 plastic straws as well as a crystal cave comprising 18,000 plastic cups. Aside from being visually impactful, the thought-provoking images implore us to rethink how we consume.

“Strawpocalypse” by Benjamin Von Wong
“Turn Off the Plastic Tap” by Benjamin Von Wong

Von Wong’s latest piece titled Giant Plastic Tap is his most ambitious yet. “The Embassy of Canada in France reached out and asked if I could build an art installation to raise awareness for plastics,” he says. “This was my chance to create more than a piece of art. It was my chance to create a symbol inviting the world to #TurnOffThePlasticTap.”

The tap, for instance, was made from scavenged ventilation ducts and fitted for a forklift. The plastic “water” was sorted, poked, and threaded together, making for easy setup and tear-down so that it could be photographed in multiple locations.

In another work, Benjamin Von Wong collaborated with Greenpeace and aerial performance artist Katerina Soldatou to create “Every 60 Seconds,” which highlights the fact that a truckload of plastic enters the ocean every minute.

“Every 60 Seconds” by Benjamin Von Wong
Benjamin Von Wong

Like all great art, Von Wong’s art is political, social and personal. Von Wong’s intention with his art—to bring awareness of the dire situation and our personal role in it—is necessary.  

This is a fight we can ALL fight as individuals, as households and as communities. This is because most single-use plastics are consumer-based. We can choose to perpetuate their use OR choose against them as discerning buyers and citizens. By simply making a choice.

“Turn Off the Plastic Tap” by Benjamin Von Wong

Treehugger Magazine reveals six types of single-use plastic that should be avoided and banned according to the 5 Gyres Institute report called “The Plastics BAN List.” The following six plastic groups pose the most damage to human health and the environment. This was based on their ubiquity, which form is commonly found, which toxic chemicals are used to create them and what recovery systems (i.e. recycling, composting, reuse) exist. Go to my post “Plastics We Need to Avoid and BAN” for more information on each.

  1. Food wrappers and containers
  2. Bottle and container caps
  3. Plastic bags
  4. Straws and stirrers
  5. Beverage bottles
  6. Take out containers

Not included in the Treehugger top six, but part of the fifteen recommended for total ban based on their high environmental persistence and potential to accumulate toxic chemicals in the environment include:

  • Plastic Utensils
  • Cigarette Butts
  • Hard plastic cups
  • Personal care products
  • Cigarette lighters & containers (also now made with plastic)

Cigarettes make up more than one-third—nearly 38 percent—of all collected litter. Disposing of cigarettes on the ground or out of a car is so common that 75 percent of smokers report doing it. Many smokers don’t even consider cigarette butts as litter and erroneously believe that the butt will disintegrate in the next rain. They are wrong. Most butts contain plastic. Ninety-eight percent of cigarette filters are made of plastic fibres ( cellulose acetate) that are non-biodegradable and take up to two years to decompose, giving them time to leach toxic chemicals in land, water and air.

Cigarette butts contain harmful chemicals, including arsenic (used to kill rats), lead, and over 4000 other toxic compounds that can contaminate water and soil: nasties such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides as well as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and heavy metals.

If you’re a smoker, fine. Just don’t use the environment as your garbage can!

Littering our environment is a sign of disrespect

You can go to these sites for more information on plastics:

“Plastics We Need to Avoid and BAN”
“Eight Easy Ways to Reduce Single-Use Plastic”
“Ten Rivers Contribute over 90% of Plastic Pollution in our Ocean”
“Where Our Recycling Really Goes”
“When Recycling is Just a Business—Not Part of a World Solution”

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press(Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

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