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Comprehending the Pacific Garbage Patch

Chris Jordan uses his photographs to illustrate the complexities and enormities of the problem with have with our consumption and its impact on the environment. Until recently his work focused on a series called “Running the numbers” which attempts to give some meaning to all the huge statistics we hear about our environmental problem. Such as…

> Two million plastic bottles are used in the US every five minutes.

Chris’ approach is to use photographs to illustrate just how big a number this is. The plastic bottles sequence can be seen at here at

A similar idea has been applied to paper grocery store bags (1.14 million used every hour), mobile phones (nearly half a million retired in the US every day) and barbie dolls (used to illustrate the 32,000 elective breast augmentation surgeries performed in the US every month during 2006). You can see the full collection on Chris Jordan’s website.

But in 2009 he changed tack and began working with some NGOs trying to raise awareness of what they call the “Pacific Garbage Patch”, an unimaginably vast stretch of trash floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

So, how to illustrate this? Jordan has used his distinctive collage approach, mapping the Gyre. But this paled in comparison to the raw imagery of the albatross carcasses on Midway Atoll, a tiny island in the North Pacific. Here, baby albatross are fed plastic picked out of the ocean and are consequently dying. The pictures of the exposed carcasses with what sometimes looks to be the contents of someone’s emptied-out pockets are extraordinary and upsetting.

You can see a video slideshow of the pictures here or see the full set of photographs here.

Torn-down forests and stranded polar bears make impressive and stirring imagery. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything as powerful as the Midway pictures that presents so clearly and directly the consequences of mass consumption and disregard for the environment. Please forward it to your friends.

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