Hackney Wick’s adventures in Plastic

Hackney Wick’s adventures in Plastic

Barge Fiodra spent the last few days of May at Sweetwater – a mooring for trading boats at Hackney Wick on the River Lea, right next to the Olympic Park  A great place for presenting our events on the theme of Plastic.

Local historian Carolyn Clark kicked off this theme with a fascinating talk entitled Plastic – The First 100 Years. She illustrated the talk with rare and delightful items from her collection of early plastics. We learned that industrial Hackney played a major role in the development of early plastics from the 1860s.

What particularly struck me was the urgency at that time to find replacements for ivory and tortoiseshell – elephants were being killed in their thousands simply to make billiard balls. One early plastics company, the producers of Xylonite, even featured a joyful elephant and tortoise in their branding!

Early plastic products were seen as desirable and durable commodities; a real effort was made to create beautiful, hardwearing items that people would treasure and even show off as the height of fashion. This is a long way from some of the ubiquitous, flimsy, single-use plastics we see today.

As we are now only too well aware, many of today’s plastic products end up in our waterways and oceans contaminating the environment and endangering wildlife.

Wanting to take some local action against plastic pollution, we were able to get some of the more enthusiastic members of our audience out on the river Lea picking up plastic litter, with the help of Moo Canoes and the Milk Float Café. Moo do regular free floating litter picks in collaboration with the Lower Regents Coalition, so do get along there if you want to do your bit.

Our plastic-themed events culminated in a screening of Albatross, a deeply moving film by American environmental artist and photographer Chris Jordan. For many years Chris has been documenting the impact of plastic waste on the albatross population of Midway Island in the north Pacific.

The resulting film is an extraordinarily powerful and meditative exploration of the lives of these beautiful birds, and the devastation wreaked on them by the hard plastic the chicks ingest. The film is being screened at the United Nations on 8 June, World Oceans Day, after which it will be made available as a free public artwork.

Moira Jenkins - First Mate, Barge Fiodra

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