“Plastic Century” art installation

Visitors who come across the “Plastic Century” art installation while searching for a sip of water at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco tomorrow may find their options less than appealing: Drink from a trash-filled water cooler or go thirsty.

In a piece commissioned by the academy to mark World Oceans Day (and the 100th birthday of iconic marine scientist and explorer Jacques Cousteau), artist Sarah Kornfeld, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, and futurists Stuart Candy and Jake Dunagan set out to show what a century of plastic has done to our environment — and specifically the world’s seas.

6 Billion Tons of Plastic
The team set up four functioning water coolers, labeled 1910, 1960, 2010, and 2030.,each filled with different amounts of plastic garbage — old toothbrushes, film, candy wrappers, drinking straws — according to how much of the material existed (or is projected to exist) on the planet during that time period in an effort to stir up strong emotions about what might otherwise be abstract facts and figures.

“This is something that people can look at and feel on a visceral level,” Kornfeld told Fast Company.

The numbers themselves, though, are staggering. According to the Plastic Century website, 60 million tons of plastic had been produced globally in 1910, a few years after the material was introduced. Today, the cumulative total is 6 billion tons, a number that is expected to more than double by 2030. The project, its creators say, aims “to make visible a phenomenon so widespread that it has become virtually invisible.”

Via Treehugger