How dog-walking turned into plastic waste activism

plastic waste3
© There Is No Away

A woman from California was so distressed by the amount of plastic waste she encounters daily while walking her dogs that she started posting her pictures online to show people where plastic ends up.

When Heather Itzla goes out to walk her dogs, she takes an extra bag and some tongs – not for the purpose you might imagine, but rather to collect all the plastic waste that she encounters during her hour of walking. She brings it home, spreads it out, and takes a picture that gets posted on her unusual and totally captivating website, “There Is No Away.”

Itzla started doing this several years ago, after watching a TED talk by Captain Charles Moore called “Seas of Plastic.” She told TreeHugger:

“After picking myself up off the floor, plastic became all I could notice out in the world – the phenomenal amount of plastic that passes through our daily lives in the form of packaging and all of the ‘stuff’ we’re marketed to believe we need – and then it was all I could notice on the ground, no matter where I walked.”

Itzla’s collection of photos is eerie and discomfiting. Nearly all the pieces of plastic are recognizable – pens, straws, water bottles, cutlery, wrappers, condiment bags, bottle caps, and food containers – except they’re the dirty, used, cracked, abandoned versions that many of us leave on the ground or toss into a garbage can as quickly as possible. Itzla, on the other hand, bravely collects it all to make a powerful statement. She writes on her website:

“Sometimes I am nostalgic for the time before I looked behind the ‘away’ curtain, as in ‘throw it away’. Like all the unsavory things I can’t un-know, discovering ‘away’ has altered how I see. It now seems the fallout from our disposable culture is all I can see.”

plastic waste1© There Is No Away

plastic waste2© There Is No Away

Itzla, who lives in Marin, California, and is a mother to two teenaged kids, has started local campaigns to reduce plastic waste, working with schools and town council to spread the word. One campaign is called “Thanks for Nothing,” targeted at reducing the amount of unwanted waste that is foisted upon customers without asking for it, i.e. extra ketchup packets in a to-go container, the straw you didn’t ask for, plastic cutlery, the little plastic box supporter in the middle of a pizza.

“‘Thanks for Nothing’,” Itzla explains, “is a polite way of asking merchants to keep those items and save themselves money in the process, and to raise our awareness as consumers to refuse this stuff from the get go.”

Another campaign is “The Straw Project,” which strives to convince restaurants to provide straws only on request, similar to the ‘water on request’ protocol. Consider that 500 million plastic straws are used and disposed of daily – enough to fill 127 school buses – in the United States alone. Reducing the use of straws would help significantly to minimize unnecessary plastic waste.

Itzla has become an advocate in an unlikely way – from dog-walking to activism – but she is a wonderful example of how the motivation to work for environmental change can stem from surprising, unforeseen places. Simply by collecting and photographing, she has pushed a too-often-neglected issue into the spotlight and created a rallying point for people who can’t resist the deeply moving and distressing images on her website.

Even I, who thinks and writes about plastic waste on a regular basis, became emotional while looking at photo after photo of, as Itzla puts it so well, “the fallout from our disposable culture.” As a little experiment this morning, I collected all the plastic waste I could find in the street, just in front of my home. I was shocked at how much I found as soon as I started paying close attention. (Note: This does not include all the non-plastic waste I found.)

plastic trash© K Martinko

Please take a look at "There Is No Away." Let yourself be moved, and may it spur you to action within your own community.

Tags: Plastic Bags | Plastics | Waste


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