Half of the show elucidates aspects of ocean ecology. Information boards and video clips bring the plastic soup to life. Visitors can see how animals mistake our civilization's waste for food with bottles that have teeth marks from sharks and sea turtles. Haunting photos show that sea birds like albatrosses slurp up plastic pieces that damage their insides or even cause them to starve to death because the plastic particles fill their stomachs.
The second half of the exhibit addresses plastic in daily life. The lunacy of take-out food packaging is shown through plastic salad boxes that have dressing in separate containers, as well as the egg and fork wrapped in film. What is less obvious is how plastic whirls through washing machines and bathrooms. Fleece clothing, for example, can leave behind up to 1,900 plastic fibers in every wash. And many cosmetic peeling creams contain polyethylene balls. Just like fleece fibers, they are so tiny that they end up passing through filters, landing in rivers and ultimately pouring into our oceans.
For those who are experts in the field, the exhibition doesn't offer much new. But taken together with the accompanying program of films, debates and tours of sewage treatment plants and recycling plants, it makes the plastic garbage heap easily understandable in a non dogmatic way for laypeople and school children. In Zürich, 400 school groups visited the exhibit. For many visitors, it is the first chance they have to delve so deeply into the issue. Who knows? Some may even go on to become environmental activists or sea researchers. At the very least, many visitors will at least be more inclined to pay closer attention to their consumption habits.
The rest of the lazy visitors? They can at the very least make environmental small talk at parties when others casually tap their plastic forks against their plastic cups. "Did you know," one might ask, for example, "that the mass of plastic that has been produced until today is enough to wrap the Entire earth in plastic wrap six times over?"
"Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project" runs until March 31, 2013, at the Museum of Arts and Crafts (MKG) in Hamburg, Germany. You can find additional information by visiting www.PlasticGarbageProject.org.