Activists in Indonesia worried about plastic pollution wanted people to rethink their usage. So they built a museum made from more than 10,000 discarded bottles, bags, straws and single-use food packaging.
The museum, which opened last month in the town of Gresik in East Java province, features thousands of plastic bottles that dangle overhead as visitors pass through the site, highlighting the sprawling impact of the marine crisis.
While it is difficult to calculate precisely how much plastic has ended up in the world’s oceans, scientists have estimated that the yearly figure of waste being dumped could be as high as 12.7 million metric tons, according to data published in the journal Science.
Plastics are virtually indestructible and while some items are biodegradable, it could take centuries for them to break down.
It took activists from Indonesia’s Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation group three months to create the exhibit, which is known as “Terowongan 4444,” or “4444 tunnel.”
Photos shared to the group’s official Facebook page in recent months highlight the extent of the plastic pollution problem. One image shows trash tangled in the low-hanging branches of trees lining riverbeds, while other images show activists bagging up countless sacks of debris.
At the heart of the museum stands a statue of Dewi Sri, the goddess of prosperity, who is widely worshiped by the Javanese. The sculpture towers over visitors who are able to observe her skirt, which is made of discarded food and drink packaging — items that were bagged up by the group over the past few years.
The group’s founder, Prigi Arisandi, told Reuters that the exhibition was built in a bid to spark change among people who may unwittingly be part of the problem.
Wearing a T-shirt with a slogan that read, “I’m on a plastic diet,” Arisandi said he wanted visitors to become “educated” about the issue so they could help “reduce the use of single-use plastics.”
“By looking at how much waste there is here, I feel sad,” one visitor told Reuters, while another told the agency he would be changing his consumer habits.
“I will switch to a tote bag and when I buy a drink, I will use a tumbler,” Ahmad Zainuri said.
Experts say that some initiatives to reduce individual plastic use, such as banning plastic straws, only have a minimal impact on plastic pollution — so wider efforts to ensure better waste collection and the use of recycled or biodegradable material are also essential.
Along with the climate crisis, world leaders have also faced questions over the issue of plastic pollution, with advocacy groups calling on officials to do more to help struggling communities.
Scientists have stressed that while it is paramount that officials take the issue of a warming climate seriously, the marine crisis should not be sidelined.
“Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most critical global threats of our time,” Heather Koldewey of the Zoological Society of London told the BBC last month.
“Plastic pollution is also having a global impact; from the top of Mount Everest to the deepest parts of our ocean,” she said, adding that both problems were intertwined and having a negative impact on ocean biodiversity.
“It’s not a case of debating which issue is most important, it’s recognizing that the two crises are interconnected and require joint solutions,” Koldewey said.