The Museum of Plastic is popping up once again, this time at the EDITION Hotel during Art Basel Miami Beach, from Friday, December 6 through Sunday, December 8. Creative incubator Lonely Whale designed the art installation to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the oceans, first unveiling it earlier this year in New York during World Oceans Week.
Lonely Whale is known for campaigns like the anti-straw Stop Sucking and the anti-single-use plastic water bottle Question How You Hydrate. Inhabitat talked with Lonely Whale executive director Dune Ives about the Museum of Plastic, and the importance of personal behavior change and radical cross-industry collaboration to solve the world’s plastic problems. Answers have been edited for length.
Inhabitat: What exactly is Lonely Whale Foundation?
Ives: We’re located at 30,000 feet. We’re virtual. We spend most of our time in various places around the world addressing ocean health issues. We’ve been around for four years. We actually officially launched at Art Basel in 2015. We call ourselves an incubator for courageous ideas to save the oceans.
It got its start out of inspiration from this documentary film about finding this whale that speaks at a frequency no other whale has been known to speak at before or since it was found, which is the frequency of 52 hertz. What our co-founders (Adrian Grenier and Lucy Sumner) wanted to make sure we did as an organization was pull people closer to the ocean. To get them to become aware that there is an ocean, it’s in dire straits, we’re largely the cause for that state of affairs. There’s so much we can do to help make it a better place.
Inhabitat: What have been Lonely Whale’s biggest accomplishments so far?
Ives: I think our biggest accomplishment to date is connecting people to each other. We set out to raise awareness about plastic pollution. But we wanted to create content and initiatives that broke down barriers to engagement. So we didn’t want to make it feel too heavy or too dire or too negative. We also didn’t want it to feel too far away.
So we launched our first campaign, Stop Sucking, and that was launched in tandem with Strawless in Seattle. It was really intended to take a lighthearted look at a really big, serious and growing issue of plastic pollution. It struck a chord with people. You could be funny and be an environmentalist at the same time.
We have an Ocean Heroes boot camp, we call it, where we bring kids together from all over the world. To date, over 50 countries. This year alone, we’ll reach about a thousand kids, and they are working with each other across borders, across languages, across time zones, to stop plastic pollution.
We work with individuals, with our impact campaigns. We work with youth with our Ocean Heroes program. Next Waves is our third big initiative, where we get global corporations to sit across the table from each other to provoke a conversation about plastic pollution. But really it’s about shifting our perception about what is waste and what is usable material and to challenge each other to do more, to go further than they ever thought that they could in being a solution to the problem of plastic pollution. So I think it’s that connectedness, that togetherness, which is a unique contribution that Lonely Whale has made in the ocean health discussion.
Inhabitat: What is Art Basel Miami Beach?
Ives: It’s an amazing amalgamation of people who are cultural taste-makers and thought leaders and artists and musicians and business leaders who are really excited to drive a conversation about how art and technology and culture intersect and should really allow us to advance progress on the issues that we’re working on as a society.
Inhabitat: Tell us more about the Museum of Plastic.
Ives: We call it an experiential activation or art installation. It will be installed at the EDITION Hotel, which is right on Miami Beach. People will go through a series of experiences throughout the open spaces in the EDITION. The first experience they’ll go through is what’s called the Ocean Voyage Room, which shows what will happen if we don’t make much more progress than where we are. It’s estimated that in 2014, ’15, ‘16, ’17 and ’18, we had a minimum of 8-12 million tons of new plastic entering the ocean every year. We’re projecting 2020, ’21 and ’22 to have the exact same situation.
This Ocean Voyage experience is going to illustrate that this is how bad it can be. But it will also show how we can help prevent this. Because everyone who’s coming through is going to agree to take a challenge to eliminate their use of single-use plastic packaging.
One of my favorite things that we’ve produced is a plastic money receipt. We project, based on estimates, that every year, we spend over $200 billion on single-use plastic water bottles. This plastic money receipt shows everything else that we could spend 200 billion dollars on. We could actually protect the entire tropical rainforest with 200 billion dollars. This is a very engaging, kind of eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience for people, where you see what our choices are doing and what our choices could do instead.
The third experience at the Museum of Plastic is what we call the ATTN Theater in partnership with ATTN. It’s an original film about how people are using less plastic and the solutions that they’re moving forward with to help protect our oceans. It’s an exciting way to really get engaged in the topic of solutions, but in a way, that’s really inspiring.
Inhabitat: Your partners include fashion designer Heron Preston, tech giant HP, media company ATTN, and the EDITION Hotel. How does that work?
Ives: We can’t solve these environmental issues on our own as an organization, as a nonprofit. If we’re going to solve for plastic pollution or climate change or illegal fishing or, name the issue, then we have to do so in partnership with industry leaders. That’s really what we’re doing at the EDITION Hotel, in partnership with Heron and with HP, is demonstrating this is a new model for environmentalism that has been tested out over the last few years and is working quite well.
HP released the very first monitor that had several of its component parts made from ocean-bound plastic. What HP has done that others haven’t yet been able to do is that it has created a blended polymer.
What [HP] is doing with Heron, though, is really fascinating. It is now taking this young, strong voice in the sustainable fashion industry and connecting it 100 percent to the plastic pollution discussion by getting Heron to build the pilot program to try to find alternatives to plastic poly bags. [Note: Short for polyethylene, poly bags are used in most industries. In fashion, these thin, plastic bags are used to protect garments during shipping. The Heron Preston/HP collaboration resulted in poly bags that are compostable at home.]
Millennials and Gen Z are very focused on environmental issues, Gen Z even more so than millennials. So when you collaborate with someone like Heron Preston, you’re taking a somewhat difficult-to-engage-with topic of plastic pollution, and you’re now infiltrating the Gen Z market in a way that we haven’t seen any other technology company do to date. He’s edgy, he’s young. He’s really starting to drive the sustainable fashion conversation. Now, he’s bringing his art and his ingenuity together with a technology company that’s leading on ocean-bound plastic issues. So it’s a really nice integration of those two topics together, and what better place to showcase it than at Art Basel.
Inhabitat: What are the top things the average person can do to decrease ocean pollution?
Ives: The nice thing about plastic pollution and what the individual can do is that there are so many options. When you think about straws, unless you need a straw to drink, just drink with your mouth. Where you do have access to clean, safe drinking water, just drink from a tap. You don’t need a single-use plastic water bottle.
Those are two of the easiest things that you can do. I think the third is just be aware. Be more aware. Once you realize that single-use plastics are everywhere, they’re in your life, then you start making choices about do you need the English cucumber, or are you okay with the regular cucumber that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic? Then, I think once you make those choices, you see how easy it is every day to be a solution to the problem.
The plastic pollution crisis is solvable. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Photography by Craig Barritt / Getty Images via Lonely Whale