The New Yorker: How Plastics are Poisoning Us

Aug 15, 2023

“Without plastic we’d have no modern medicine or gadgets or wire insulation to keep our homes from burning down... but with plastic we’ve contaminated every corner of Earth,” reads a quote from Matt Simon in Elizabeth Kolbert's recent article for the New Yorker. Plastics appear everywhere: from human placentas to chasms 36,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface. Will we ever be rid of them? 

In a nutshell:

Since their inception in 1865, plastics have evolved into a staggering annual production exceeding 800 billion pounds. These polymers degrade into minuscule microplastics that disseminate extensively, reaching the farthest corners of our globe. These particles permeate the internal organs of various species across the food chain with harmful toxins. Despite efforts towards recycling, reuse, and repurposing, the predicament posed by plastics remains impervious to such solutions.

Big picture:

The notion of addressing plastic pollution fundamentally requires a resolute dedication to curtailing plastic manufacturing, if not eliminating it altogether. This endeavor would entail the gradual phasing out of the petrochemical sector, a prospect that arises just as the prominent energy corporations are pivoting towards renewable sources. Paradoxically, these companies view plastics as a cornerstone for forthcoming gains. The oil and gas realm, backed by substantial political influence and sustained by years of unparalleled earnings and supportive backers, is unlikely to yield without resistance.

Read Elizabeth Kolbert's astute analysis in The New Yorker.

What about public art?

All public artists must confront the impact of the materials and processes used to create their art. This is the motivation behind the work of STUDIOKCA, an award-winning art + design firm based in Brooklyn headed by co-founders Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang. STUDIOKCA has pulled over fifteen tons of waste from the ‘plastic soup’ that is floating on the surface of the ocean. This accumulation was used as a medium for their seven-story tall sculptural whale that breaches the historic Love River in Taiwan. This colossal "Whale in Love" serves to both address the 150 million tons of plastic waste that remain, as well as emphasize the necessity for individual and collective action.

Klimoski reminds us that “pound for pound, there is more plastic waste from our cities swimming in the ocean than there are whales.” Ultimately, the goal behind designing and constructing "Whale in Love" was to allow visitors to stand beneath a life-sized whale and visualize the enormity of plastic waste entering our waterways every day, and understand how we must all work together to protect our shared natural resources.

The issue of plastics and how it relates to the work of public artists is an enormous one, which is why we are honored to feature Jason Klimoski as a keynote speaker at this year's CODAsummit. Join us as we continue this important conversation in San Jose, October 4–6. Click here to learn more.