The Beauty Behind the Trash
Stephanie Froebel, 16, she/her
Every day, I watch as family, friends, and strangers fill their garbage bins full. Recycling becomes a second priority and litter a convenience to some. I see the plastic bags stuck in trees or the plastic bottles and cans lining the water’s edge. There is literally a garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean spanning over 1.6 million square kilometers.
Knowing all this and more about our pollution crisis, I could not bring myself to send away the plastics I knew would never live purposefully again, their fates sealed by the trash can. I began keeping most of all usable waste I found: cereal bags, balloons, bottle caps, empty paint tubes, wraps from my sprained ankle, plastic bags, guitar strings, and tons more. The idea of the sea turtle was a sporadic impulse of mine, sparked by a deep fascination with sea turtles. They have been living on this earth for 200-300 million years, surviving the mass extinction that took the dinosaurs, but due to pollution and human interference, are at risk of extinction. The sea turtle, in this piece, is the symbol of longevity, conveying to the viewer that in order to save this planet and allow humans to live as long as the sea turtles, our relationship with single-use and plastics needs to be changed.
The process began with a lot of problem-solving. I did not want to use any first-hand materials if I could avoid it. The only materials I used that weren’t living their second life in this project were mod podge and 10+-year-old hot glue sticks. Using 3D models of sea turtles online, I studied the shapes that composed the sea turtle which allowed me to piece together those shapes with my materials. For instance, my oatmeal canister became the neck and my ball of foot wraps from my sprained ankle stuck together then placed in a plastic produce bag became the mold for the head. Every part of this sea turtle was built with materials many would toss away right after they get them.
I did not want my sea turtle to simply be a turtle made of garbage, but for it to represent the change in the relationship that is required to fix our excessive waste. Through the plastic flowers or braids, I want the viewer to see beauty or appreciation for these materials they may not have seen before.
Finally, after the main turtle was composed, I installed the turtle in my bedroom. I used blue yarn to represent the ocean. Having each strand wrap under the body and meet at a central point resembles a net or trap of sorts. Although the sea turtle is positioned to look like he is swimming through the sea that is my room, with the strings restraining his body and head, he will not be able to move and survive. Without bringing awareness and consciousness to what we put in our wastebaskets, we will be trapped like the sea turtle, unable to move.
If we don’t choose to create less waste, we will destroy the sea, and next up we will destroy our own homes, too, with the overwhelming mass of waste that is being created daily.