The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that over 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of ocean. Some researchers calculate that 4.7 million tons of plastic waste reaches the sea annually, swept from mundane terrestrial existence into swirling adventure via rivers and sewage drains, or dumped from ships.
Toothbrushes, syringes, dentures, Lego blocks, lighters. These are just a few of the plastic players that frolic in the waves, catching a lift on oceanic currents to eventually find their way to the ever-growing plastic trash party known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the "plastic soup" of waste that now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States.
But then there are the strays, the rebellious pens and bags and bottles that take a turn away from a future as marine detritus and instead find refuge on the sandy shore. Washed up like castaways, they bake in the sun and wait to return to the sea or some other unknown fate.
Like a Victorian collector of natural specimens, Elkins searches out and catalogues the flotsam and jetsam of everyday life. His trash-scouting adventures and the fruits of his labor are chronicled at outerspacecities.com, where his logs and archeological surveys of mostly ocean debris are kept – like the New York City Lighter Log, which follows 1900 disposable plastic cigarette lighters, collected, mapped, and photographed, from 47 different waterfront locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City.
Elkins' latest is the Jamaica Bay Pen Project, a collection of refurbished and working ink pens, all recovered from the shores of Jamaica Bay in Queens, NY. From the project page's notes:
Each pen [or marker] has been cleaned, sanitized, and modified with a new working ink cartridge - thus restoring a formerly disposable product, later seafaring piece of flotsam, and ultimately beached debris to again serve its intended purpose of inscribing words and lines to paper.
For more past pens and future pens to come, you can track the collection at Jamaica Bay Pen Project.