One day, on my favourite beach in Cornwall, England, I saw something I didn’t recognise. So I bent down to pick it up. It took me some time to realise that what I held in my hand was a a piece of nylon fishing net; thick, dirty white, entangled in weeds. I looked around and saw plastic debris all over the beach, so I picked it up and took it home.
The oceans are full of rubbish. Stuff that is carelessly thrown away, or dumped, or lost in accidents. Much of it is plastic and rather small and out of sight – until the sea brings it back on the tide, and deposits it along the wrack lines of beaches all over the planet. For over four years I cleaned this debris off beaches near my home. For one year I sorted and counted the debris (over 25,000 pieces,) and another year I stored everything small enough in recycled jars. Recently I have been making bundles of debris on the beach.
Picking up other people’s trash in public places breaks the bounds of normal behaviour and brings us face to face with the unintended consequences of mass production. It is a way of being in the world, a conversation with place, a small act of repair.
You can read my cleaning beaches blog (2011-2014) here