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Pangea Photo Festival : James Whitlow Delano : Drowning in Plastic


The exhibition “Drowning in Plastic” by James Whitlow Delano will open at the Pangea Photo Festival in Italy on 18 June through 18 September 2022.
Here is the introduction to the series.

Here’s the biggest problem with plastic: It is one of humanity’s most versatile inventions. Even steel, a metal alloy, which can be bent into a pretzel, is heavier and less versatile by a long shot than plastics. Plastics can be strong, rock hard and light, tensile in the extreme and cushion soft. They can be formed into any shape and can even stand up to extreme heat.

Now after decades of overuse of single-use plastic, we are literally drowning in the plastic we’ve thrown away – by 2017, the world had produced a grand total of 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic, one tonne for every person on the planet. Most of it, 6.3 billion metric tonnes, can be found in landfill sites but another 8 million metric tonnes of plastic enters our oceans each year because roughly 2 billion people live within 48 km (30 miles) of the sea.

Plastic is literally in every corner of the planet. In 2019, researchers found microplastic in Arctic ice in greater concentrations than in the surrounding Arctic Ocean waters – the same year, explorers found plastic in the Marianas Trench in the Pacific, the deepest place on the planet. 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by mass is made up of plastic “ghost” fishing nets, lost by fishermen.

Zooplankton, minute organisms that form the very foundation of the marine food chain, are consuming microplastic, and microfibers from synthetic (plastic) clothing – mistaking them for food, because, unlike most other materials, it does not biodegrade. Plastic breaks into smaller and smaller pieces – of plastic. They eat less nutrient-rich food while absorbing toxins from the plastic. These toxins are passed up the food chain by predators. Those toxins accumulate, most affecting those at the top of that fish-consuming chain like sharks, toothed-whales, seals, seabirds and us. 90% of seabirds are eating plastic according to an Australian study in 2015. Some seabirds have been found with so much plastic in stuck in their stomachs that there was no room left for food. Slowly they starve.

A visit to a home center in Tokyo, where I live, is to fully immerse in the spectrum of plastics – carbon-fiber this, Teflon that, strawberries displayed in clear plastic containers, kept moist beneath wafer-thin plastic wrap, and beef garnished with green plastic leaves, offered in Styrofoam trays printed to look like wood.

There are shelves full of plastic artificial turf for the patio, plastic faux-wood floors, shiny-plastic rice cookers and coffee makers for the kitchen; hard-plastic towers of drawers for the bedroom, plastic televisions and soft-leatherette sofa and loveseat combos for the living room; plastic plants in plastic pots for the window sill, plastic rakes and hoses for the garden; shampoo, soap, skin lotions and make-up for the bathroom packaged in every color of the plastic rainbow; clear plastic umbrellas for the frequent rains, and plastic toys in bright, shining plastic-coated paper boxes for the kids.

Even 60% of our clothes are made from synthetic fibers – plastic. Aisle upon aisle of cheap, polyester and acrylic clothing – spanning all age categories from cradle to grave – hang neatly in rows of racks.

Finally, consumers patiently wait in lines, pushing plastic shopping carts, preparing to pile their purchases onto a plastic conveyor belt, to be scanned by a clerk into a plastic-encased cash register, paid for with a plastic credit card, before stuffing it all into single-use plastic bags to be carried home.

This series explores the environmental plague of plastic waste, the scale of the challenge and shows how, although it bears down hardest on the developing world, the challenge of plastic waste disposal spares no country.


Pangea Photo Festival
18 June – 18 September 2022
Ginepreto, Castelnovo ne’ Monti, Italy



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