Plastic Trash Art

by Hanae Armitage

Oct. 21, 2013—Ziploc bags, bottle tops, yogurt lids, juice box straws, Lunchables boxes: the kind of plastic half-buried in California’s beach sand varies widely, and the supply seems never-ending. But while it’s disheartening, there may be a flip-side to plucking cheese spreaders from the shore. Bright, colorful and durable, plastic is intrinsically attractive, and for some, inspirational. The combination of the plastic’s aesthetic potential and the growing awareness of beach pollution sparked Judith and Richard Lang’s transformative blog and art movement, Plastic Forever. For more than two decades, the Langs have been picking up pieces of plastic from Kehoe Beach, a part of Point Reyes National Seashore, and fashioning them into art works.

“We got tired of hearing the facts and statistics about what’s going on over the whole planet. It’s numbing to the mind,” says Richard. “So we thought, if we clean up 1,000 yards of one beach, we could make a real difference.”

Over the years the Langs have created countless pieces of art, including sculptures, bottle cap mosaics, even jewelry. “We’re artists first, and we come to it from that sensibility,” says Judith.

The State of Santa Cruz Beaches
Props for Santa Cruz County's Plastic Bag Ban
July 5 Beach Cleanup Results

Both Langs were artists decades before Plastic Forever surfaced. In 1999, on their first date at Kehoe Beach, they discovered each was independently collecting plastic and transforming it into art (aw!). This unlikely coincidence grew into the forces that drive Plastic Forever—love for Kehoe Beach, love for art and love for each other.

Collecting and molding over two tons of plastic into whimsical art has encouraged the Langs to support companies that rethink their products and packaging systems to eliminate unnecessary plastic. “We just discovered a yogurt that comes in a returnable, re-useable glass container, and we’re really keen on supporting these kinds of companies,” says Judith. “It’s one way that we can change ourselves and hopefully change everyone along the way.”

Though plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, the Langs concentrate their efforts solely on Kehoe Beach. Better to focus on a single cause, they figure, and make a tangible difference than spread efforts too thin.

With all their energy focused on Kehoe, they’ve become deeply invested in its history, geography and oceanography and picked up on issues like overfishing and marine pollution. Finding anti-depressants, among other things, in local salmon is a huge red flag and sheds light on the harm our throw-away culture has on the ecosystem. Says Richard, “We hate plastic, totally.”

They subscribe to the idea that local efforts are what comprise a global effort, and endorse this sentiment when individuals ask how to help the cause. For those who are fortunate enough to live close to the beach, follow their lead. Those inland can still make a difference.

“We invite you to look at the gutter, look at the sidewalk and along the freeway to see the vast amounts of plastic debris and kinds of garbage. If we don’t pick it up here, we’re going to be picking it up on the beach,” says Judith.

Save Our Shores hosts Plastic Forever's Richard and Judith Lang at the Sanctuary Exploration Center, 35 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, on Wednesday, Oct 23, 5:30-9pm. Free.