(Life or) Death by Plastic


Use it up, wear it out

make it do

or do without.

New England proverb



Yesterday, I made an exception to my rule of never wearing black (when nobody has died) to join a pretend funeral procession on Fifth Avenue in New York City. “Death by Plastic” is a performance art call-to-action by artist, Anne Katrin Spiess, who aims to continue touring the world with this event to raise global awareness on the inevitable consequence of our indiscriminate use of disposable plastics. 

In “Death by Plastic,” Anne Katrin embodies Mother Earth in a casket, suffocated by single use plastics we often stuff into even larger plastic bags before sending them off with the garbage collector, as if this were all it took to magically make plastics disappear off the face of the earth. But plastics are virtually indestructible and ubiquitous for being cheap so, though we’ve been led to believe in the fairytale of recycling, it is essential we open our eyes to the reality that 91% of plastics canNOT be reprocessed. Even China, the world’s designated garbage dump, has recently declared Not here… No More!

Anne Katrin Spiess first performed “Death by Plastic” the Summer of 2019 in Moab, Utah– a community that has been among her favorite destinations as an artist who works with the natural environment. On her annual visits to Moab over a couple of decades, she witnessed how the seasonal deluge of tourists left behind large quantities of plastic trash in their wake, littering the expansive land that once sat proudly pristine.  Haunted by this insidious environmental degradation, she suffered sleepless nights feeling alone with her concerns until she resolved to channel her feelings of helplessness to create a statement project that might call attention to this global cancer. She commissioned a plexiglass casket where her body could lay in to symbolize Mother Earth inundated by non-recyclable plastics.

In November 2019, Anne Katrin arranged for a gondola to perform “Death by Plastic” across the canals of Venice, a veritable Sleeping Beauty covered by a sampling of the water bottles and food containers dumped by its 36 million tourists each year–a major cause of pollution in Venice, as it is in the rest of the world.  

While plastics are unarguably useful, their use requires more thoughtful consideration beyond our customary nonchalance. Every elder who remembers the time before plastics (Was there ever?!) needs to share their wisdom on how to live a more earth-attuned existence. Corporations can look beyond navel gazing over quarterly profits to make more responsible choices in materials for packaging and the products they peddle. Social media influencers can wield their power to endorse something natural and earth-friendly for every sponsored product they hype. Policy makers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists can orchestrate a global push that we can all contribute to and help reduce and re-use.  This concerted effort, though Herculean, has got to be easier than convincing Mars to become human friendly when it’s decidedly not.

Great hope also lies in engaging our young in the conversation, empowering them with the confidence that they, too, are capable of thinking of ways to make a difference.  In encouraging them to think outside the box we’ve nailed ourselves in with our ingrained plastics habits, we can sow new seeds of possibility and they may surprise us yet with ideas we’ve never thought of or forgotten. May their identity revolve around protecting precious Mother Earth. May their priorities be about memorable shared experiences with people, instead of the endless accumulation of things. May their lifestyle choices be about co-existing in harmony with nature, built upon a conscious desire to minimize waste altogether.

Before “Death by Plastic” becomes the reality for our generation, how can each one of us make a difference with our daily choices to say No or, at least, repurpose single use plastics?  As mothers and guardians of this planet, let us gather quickly for a pre-mortem, rub off the sleep of ignorance and blind indifference, acknowledge that when we are not part of the solution, we are slowly killing ourselves and our children. Margaret Mead did say Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.

Thank you, Anne Katrin, for leading the parade, reminding us that if human determination landed us on the moon and Mars, we, too, must be capable of saving this wondrous planet that has given us so much and so selflessly. May we bravely keep stepping forward, toward life affirming choices no matter how small. Every day. Right here. On Earth.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share how you choose to re-use and be kind for all of humankind.








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