This story is part of a series on ocean plastics.
Artist Benjamin Von Wong is drawing attention to an ugly problem with some beautiful pictures.
Von Wong’s mermaid photo series, which he staged and shot last year, features a woman dressed as a mermaid, drowning in thousands of plastic bottles. By visualizing the massive problem of ocean plastics pollution, Wong is hoping the series will get people to take action.
“I really wanted people to realize that within their lifetime, they would be personally responsible for generating 10,000 plastic bottles of waste,” Von Wong told HuffPost. “I wanted them to feel like they could make a personal difference ... to talk to their close friends and family about it.”
Von Wong used 10,000 real bottles in the shoot, to represent the number of bottles a person likely tosses in their lifetime. The average American goes through 167 bottles per year, according to a 2007 article from Fast Company ― reaching 10,000 bottles by age 60.
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Wong’s video on the project clearly has gotten some people talking: Posted in December, it has garnered 30 million views so far. His petition on Change.org, asking people to reduce the amount of plastic they use in their everyday life, has more than 14,000 signatures.
Around 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year, according to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum. That’s the equivalent of tossing the contents of a garbage truck into the ocean every minute. Over time, the plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, called microplastics, which marine animals like seals or fish can ingest or get tangled in, often leading to injury or even death.
To create the photo shoot, Von Wong borrowed thousands of bottles from a recycling center. He gathered friends and family to help remove the labels and caps, and clean the bottles and stage them for the shoot. Once the project was done, he returned the bottles to the recycling center.
The resulting photographs dramatically bring to life just how massive the problem of plastic pollution really is.
On the upside, there are a few simple tactics you can use in your everyday life to help reduce your plastic waste: You can carry around your own reusable bottles and take-out containers, for one. Experts recommend reusable containers and cups rather than single-use items, which people often toss in the trash.
See more of Von Wong’s plastic photo series below, or on his website.