OCEAN PLASTIC: Towards New Experimental Making and Material Outcomes




OCEAN PLASTIC: Towards New Experimental Making and Material Outcomes





The material culture of beachcombing in island communities offers a rich narrative backdrop for the exploration of socially responsible engagement with ocean plastic. Estimates vary widely, but a much-cited 2015 study by Jambeck et al. gives figures of between 8m to 12m tonnes of plastic entering the world's oceans each year. Later studies highlight the challenges of gaining more specific figures, given the near impossibility of measuring micro-plastic particles on a global scale (Boucher and Billard, 2019; Watt et al., 2021).

The island of Scarp, just off the Isle of Harris, was until 1972 home to a community of around 200 people. A treeless isle, the inhabitants relied on ocean currents to bring timber for building repairs, making furniture and even coffins. For today’s inhabitants, the owners of four holiday homes, the sea brings myriad plastic objects that are often reclaimed for domestic use. This plenitude of plastic has led to three connected design explorations that foster and promote socially responsible community engagement in response to the problem of ocean plastic.

The first exploration is a cultural examination into the way in which islanders have utilised materials and objects as both practical and decorative objects. This has given rise to conversations about something seen as an environmental catastrophe to many, a source of material to some, albeit from a highly randomised commodity supply chain, or to others a simple inevitability (Lambert, 2019).

In seeking to emphasise the potential of the plastic as a viable and abundant material source for forms of micro-manufacture, the second exploration conducted experiments and workshops in using ocean plastic as 3D printing filament. The distributive power of this form of digital fabrication might allow for more practical outcomes in remote communities (Vones et al., 2018; Lambert & Vones, 2019).

The third exploration attempted to adapt a mass production technique — injection moulding — for use on the beach. This in-situ craft production brings the manufacture to the source of the material in remote communities (Lambert, 2017).

The heritage of beachcombing in remote parts of the Highlands and Islands offers lessons in recycling and reuse, and through these material experiments serve as a reflective counterpoint to mass consumption and disposal in more populous areas of the industrialised world.





Subject Terms

ocean plastic; making; material culture; beachcombing; design

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Ian Lambert, “OCEAN PLASTIC: Towards New Experimental Making and Material Outcomes,” CCS Research Repository, accessed July 25, 2024, https://omeka.collegeforcreativestudies.edu/items/show/5.

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