A few months ago I woke up at my home in Brooklyn, New York to see everyone on the streets carrying distinct red plastic bags. I hadn't seen that in my neighborhood before but when I went for groceries later that day I realized the grocery stores had switched the color of the bags they were using. Later that week it was windy and soon I could spot those same bags in almost every tree in my neighborhood. It was early spring so the trees were still bare and it gave the impression that the trees were almost growing the plastic bags instead of leaves.
This saddened me and I spoke to another photographer friend about it while we were planning a photo trip to York Beach, Maine. On that same night, we were also discussing the lack of meaning and purpose in our work, photographing pretty faces to sell things often left us feeling hollow. It seems the marriage of all these concepts was just a happy accident but it was an important one for us. At that moment we decided to make our photo trip to Maine more than just pictures but also a chance to make a small change within ourselves. We decided to go disposable plastic free for that entire weekend and we wanted to collaborate with brands that were making a difference in the way their customers interact with their local environments.
The most challenging aspect was the weird looks you got when you ordered a meal and asked for no straws or other disposable plastics. We also had to return the tartar sauce for one of our lobster rolls because it came in a plastic packet. Most people were very kind, but one guy could tell we were from the city and he just didn't get it.
Fast forward to June we had connected with Klean Kanteen who generously helped us make this trip a reality. We set out with a box of all the water, coffee, and beer holding bottles we would need. Our mission was simple. We would not use any disposable plastics unless it was entirely necessary. We would also clean a beach for 1 hour and document what we found.
Going plastic-free was a lot easier than we thought. Since this was only for a weekend we didn't have to grocery shop or look for package free farmer's markets. We primarily ate out and didn't bring any food back to our campsites. Water was one of the bigger struggles. You have to remember to fill your bottles every chance you get.
All in all, we did really well with a couple of hiccups. We bought beer that wasn't in a box but instead had a black plastic top to hold them together only to realize after the fact. I grabbed a mint without thinking and realized the next morning I had a rapper in my pocket. (I never told my friend about this. Sorry Nick) The #1 thing that we could not for the life of us find without plastic was firewood. We searched everywhere for wood, not in a plastic net or wrapped in shrink wrap but it was nowhere to be found. Since the fire was our only light source while camping we decided begrudgingly that we would allow ourselves to get firewood but we would hold onto the plastic.
Lastly, the clean up went really well. We spent just over an hour at Long Sands beach in York, Maine which has to be the cleanest beach on the east coast. There was so little trash, unlike the beaches in New York City, we were shocked but pleasantly surprised. Sadly though over 90% of the trash we found was plastic and styrofoam.
I learned so much on this trip about how badly we over consume plastic for everything we do. I don't know if there are alternatives for everything but I know the quickest way to make a small difference in your local community is to bring your own bags to the grocery store, bring your own reusable cups and straws to the coffee shop, and to buy a reusable bottle for your water.
Going forward myself and Nick will be consuming less plastic in our everyday lives as well as hosting beach cleanups in Rockaway beach. It's our hope that with a little inspiration others will be a bit more conscious of the damage disposable plastic does to the environment and that they too will use just a little less plastic every day.