How did an Essex County road sign end up in the River Thames? Whose footballs were kicked too hard and too far and disappeared over the river’s edge? Whose shoes floated around the murky waters to be washed up on the river bank. Why is there only one – is there another somewhere to make the pair? Who lost their cute cuddly lion and whose doll fell asleep as it floated in the river waters? Most of all, how on earth did so many plastic bottles end up in the River Thames? Blue bottles, orange bottles, green bottles, clear bottles….. so many bottles.
On the Riverside Terrace of King’s College London and Somerset House are crates full of plastic debris which artist Maria Arceo has collected from the banks of the River Thames as part of a project to highlight the problem of the pollution of our rivers, seas and oceans by plastic, also a campaign by Greenpeace. You only have to look at the number of plastic bottles here to feel guilty about how we are abusing and destroying the natural environment.
One of our most urgent global environmental problems, yet not achieving the awareness or attention it deserves, plastic pollution is a theme which Maria Arceo is focussing on in her period as artist in residence at King’s College London, working with the College’s Geography and Chemistry departments and Cultural Institute on her Thames Plastic Art Project With the help of volunteers, Maria has, since September 2016, been cleaning the banks of the River Thames all the way from Teddington up the river and estuary to the sea, with the aim of making Londoners aware of just how bad the problem is on their doorstep. Tonnes – yes, tonnes, of plastic have been collected, stored and sifted and are being used in joint science and arts activities with schoolchildren to raise awareness of the problem of plastic debris in our rivers and oceans and the responsibility of designers, individuals and companies to find a solution to this problem, including potentially finding creative new uses for recycled plastic as a raw material in, for example, construction.
The aim? To make the Thames, the sea and the oceans plastic-free. Given the success of changing behaviours by charging for plastic bags, is it not time to follow on with the same for plastic bottle, with a deposit scheme as exists in other countries?