Whole Life Magazine

April/May 2014

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Page 25 of 43

P icking up plastic debris from the beach seems like an easy enough environmen- tal cleanup activity, but eventually you'd think the beach would be spotless. Not so! Judith and Richard Lang have been mining a seemingly infinite source of bits and pieces of plastic at the Point Reyes National Seashore since 1999. e Langs estimate they've picked, plucked, shoveled and pulled more than two tons of plastic from 1000 yards along Kehoe Beach. What started as a simple desire to clean up their nearby beach has morphed into a passionate endeavor for the cou- ple. Both artists, the husband and wife seek to bring awareness to the problem of plastic pollution through the lens of artwork created from their curated collection. eir aim is to brighten the challenging topic through the creative process. eir carefully composed creations artfully display curated pieces they have collected over the years in eye-catching shapes and vibrant colors. At first glance you may not notice the multiple bits and pieces involved. Looking more closely, it's unsettling to see such beauty created from garbage. With each passing year the Langs have become even more enthused about their location and bits of plastic treasure they discover in the sand. Most frequent finds include tiny tasting spoons, water bottles, hairbrush- es and combs, toothbrushes, ponytail clips, hair curlers and cookie cut- ters, as well as loads of toys, from Pick Up Sticks to army figures and rub- ber balls. ese everyday plastic items, and a vast variety more, regularly wash up onto beaches around the world. You might think, why stick with the same beach? Why not wid- en your efforts or at least find a change of scenery? But the Langs hope to convey something different with their efforts. "e whole world has opened up to us along this stretch of Kehoe Beach, from a very small place to a very large story," Judith explains. "Our idea is that all of the issues of the environment come tumbling in if you focus on one small place." Not content to be just retrievers, the Langs have also become re- searchers. "We love going to the beach and finding a unique piece of plastic that opens up the story of a whole world," says Judith. When they find an object that can't be easily identified, as in the case of a disintegrated rubber ball, "We bring it home and start our investigative process. And that is where our blog comes in, because it's a great place to tell these stories," relates Judith. Typically a blog post will relate the history of an object, what it was made from, how it was made, and an explana- tion of [how it might have found] its way into the ocean. e rubber ball in question turned out to be a Super Ball by Wham-O, a high-bouncing fad introduced in the 1960s. At one point production of the ball hit 170,000 per day, so it's likely there are a few more bouncing around in the sea. e Langs have many stories, some of which include plastic bits washed up from the Great Pacific Gyre, "a stew of plastics" otherwise known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. ere are five such gyres (referred to as islands) around the globe, each a mass of broken-down plastics that travels vertically through- out the water column. Removing these masses at all, let alone without damaging marine life, would be a daunting task. And the gyres keep growing. "e problem is turning off the fire hydrant," explains Richard; in other words, ending the continual flow. "e thing we do is make people aware that there is all of this plastic," he adds. For consumers, that means being more conscious of their pur- chases. Some cities, including Los Angeles, have banned plastic grocery bags, but stores selling other commodities still use them freely, and many items, both grocery and non, are still packaged in layers of plastic. If an item has unnecessary plastic packaging, the Langs encourage consumers to ask the manufacturer to consider streamlining its use. "We want to focus people's attention on the fact that plastic, espe- cially single-use plastic, remains forever in our environment," says Judith. Richard uses an ice cream tasting spoon as an example. "You go into an ice cream store and have a taste. at little plastic spoon is on your lips for less than 10 seconds but floating around forever. We have more than 500 of those little plastic tasting spoons [retrieved just] from our little beach. Just do the math." It's easy to feel despair about our dire environmental situation, so the Langs focus on being creative. Judith wears a plastic jewelry brace- let she craed from plastic pull-tabs as a fashion statement that engag- es people in conversation. When someone asks about it, she says, "A tiny piece of plastic expands into the larger story of plastic pollution. "We've learned that everybody has had enough of environmental bad news and it's not energizing," continues Judith. "Art that is beautiful and enticing is a better activator." TRASH Treasure to SALVAGED BEACH PLASTIC FINDS NEW LIFE BY GIGI RAGLAND 26 wholelifetimesmagazine.com FINAL-WLT-APRIL-MAY.indd 26 3/30/14 7:58 PM

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