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News / Clark County News

Vancouver artist turns ocean’s trash into treasure. Meet the Pacific Garbage Patch Babies

But this art come with a warning: We are creating a world full of plastic

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 22, 2024, 6:02am
4 Photos
Vancouver artist Alyn Spector will display his Pacific Garbage Patch Babies sculptures during an upcoming fundraiser for the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington.
Vancouver artist Alyn Spector will display his Pacific Garbage Patch Babies sculptures during an upcoming fundraiser for the Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For the past year, Vancouver resident Alyn Spector has been letting his garbage pile up. From bread bags and food containers to shopping bags and other single-use plastics, Spector has been setting aside his family’s refuse — all in the name of art.

Taking inspiration from the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards and TV show popular in the late 1980s, Spector created four sculptures using recycled plastic materials. The sea creatures — Norbert the Narwhal, Scrappy the Octopus, Patchy the Sea Turtle and Hazard the Jellyfish — will be featured at Watershed Alliance of Southwest Washington’s upcoming Earth Day fundraiser.

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Dandelion Teahouse & Apothecary, 109 W. Seventh St., Vancouver.

Those attending will learn more about Spector’s sculpting process and the ocean and can create their own miniature Pacific Garbage Patch Baby. Spector said his artwork aims to draw attention to a serious problem.

If you go

What: Meet the Garbage Patch Babies: An Earth Day Fundraiser

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Dandelion Teahouse & Apothecary, 109 W. Seventh St., Vancouver

Cost: $10

Information:thewatershedalliance.org/event/meet-the-garbage-patch-babies-an-earth-day-fundraiser

“I had been hearing a lot about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, how it covers a sector of the ocean about the size of Texas. It’s fairly substantial and right off our coast,” Spector said.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris, much of it from plastic, in the North Pacific Ocean. Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, the garbage patch is actually two distinct collections of debris. The Eastern Garbage Patch lies several hundred miles off the U.S. West Coast, while the Western Garbage Patch lies east of the island of Japan.

After learning about the garbage patch and how plastic products are polluting the environment, Spector said, he began thinking about his own contribution to the problem.

“I started to collect some of the plastic and started thinking about how much are we really using,” he said. “I kind of envisioned this horrible future where there’s just so much used plastic and it’s gotten into the ecosystem and the bloodstream of creatures that I imagine this fantastical future where these guys have mutated into all that is left.”

Micalaya Jones, volunteer coordinator for the Watershed Alliance, said Spector’s art is a great fit for the fundraiser.

“We were all for it,” she said.

Jones said the hands-on activity, in which attendees use recycled plastic to create their own Garbage Patch Baby, sets it apart from other fundraisers.

“I see it more as a hybrid workshop/fundraiser. I think it’s going to be really interesting,” she said. “We’re going to hear from Alyn on his process for making the sculptures and what sparked the idea to do them.”

Jones said Spector, who is also a volunteer with the alliance, is bringing attention to an important issue that affects not just oceans but also local lakes, rivers and streams.

“The presence of micro plastics, and even macro plastics, in our communities in general is becoming way more prevalent. There is some movement as far as people thinking about what they consume and if there’s an option to purchase something without using plastic,” Jones said. “But there are still so many things produced using plastic, especially single-use plastic.”

To turn the refuse into art, Spector cut the plastic bags into strips, which he then crocheted, a skill he learned from his mother many years ago. He crochets the outer structure, which he then stuffs with recycled clothing and plastic bags to fill out the shape. Each sculpture takes two to four months to create, depending on its size and complexity.

The big takeaway from Spector’s yearlong experiment of collecting plastic is just how ubiquitous it is, from the plastic sleeves inside cereal boxes to the plastic lids on milk cartons. He said he now has a better understanding of the problem.

“Even if you want to avoid purchasing things that have plastic in them, it’s impossible,” Spector said. “It made me acutely aware of — even when we were being conscious of it — just how much plastic we accumulated.”

The Garbage Patch Babies will be available for “adoption” at the fundraiser. The rehoming fee for each is a minimum donation of $200, which is tax deductible. The Dandelion Teahouse is also donating use of its space so that all proceeds will go to the Watershed Alliance for conservation and cleanup activities. Because it would be a little difficult to sign his sculptures, Spector will sign “adoption certificates” for each sculpture rehomed.

Norbert the Narwhal, Scrappy the Octopus and Patchy the Sea Turtle will also be on display Tuesday during the Watershed Alliance’s film event at the main library in downtown Vancouver.

Tickets to the fundraiser are $10 to help cover the cost of materials. To register, go to thewatershedalliance.org and click on the events page.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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