This Artist Transforms Beach Trash Into Stunning, Majestic Images

Mandy Barker didn’t have spend too much time on the shores to collect enough debris for her masterpieces

During Typhoon Vicente in 2012, containers filled with plastic pellets toppled from a freighter into the South China Sea. Called "nurdles," the pellets had to be vacuumed from beaches. Mandy Barker
Plastic flowers decorate homes, temples and parks in Hong Kong. Mandy Barker
The gumbo of garbage includes miniature plastic sticky rice packages. Biodegradable bamboo leaves are the traditional wrapper for the rice. Mandy Barker
Waste collected from Hong Kong’s Soko Islands represents the contours of the beaches and the shape of the islands. Mandy Barker
Hong Kong fishermen store their daily catch in plastic foam containers, which commonly wash ashore. Mandy Barker
In Wildlife, the photographer grouped New Year animals such as the snake, rabbit and pig, then added a cat, bear, seahorse and elephant. Mandy Barker
The plastic debris in Hong Kong Soup: 1826 runs the gamut from single-use food and drink packages to medical and hazardous waste. Mandy Barker
Barker collected debris from some 30 Hong Kong beaches, averaging five toys a day. Mandy Barker
Single-use cigarette lighters, collected by Mandy Barker, represent our transition to a consumerist, throw-away society. Mandy Barker
Mandy Barker chose ten objects from ten beaches for her work Poon Choi, named for a ten-ingredient New Year dish. Mandy Barker

So much plastic is discarded around the world that 8.8 million tons end up in the ocean every year, according to a recent analysis of waste disposal in 192 coastal nations, the most comprehensive study of its kind. China contributes the most, an estimated 2.4 million tons a year, followed by Indonesia at nearly 900,000 tons.

The United States ranks 20th, contributing some 80,000 tons. If trends continue, the researchers predict, the toll worldwide will double by 2025, to about 100 million pounds per day. The plastic swirls in giant gyres in the open oceans, collecting in “garbage patches” (though concentrations are too low to resemble piles of trash). Most of the plastic is degraded into small particles, eaten by sea creatures or submerged. In remote waters off Kamchatka, researchers scanning the floor three miles below the surface found as many as 185 tiny plastic litter pieces per square foot.

The disaster is largely invisible but for one place—shorelines. For Hong Kong Soup: 1826 (the number refers to the metric tons of plastic added to the city’s landfills each day), Britain-based artist Mandy Barker photographed plastic from Hong Kong beaches and layered her images for a phantasmagorical, deep-space eeriness. “I wanted to create the feeling of no boundaries,” she says, “because plastic just goes on and on.”

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