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Why Mural Arts Placed Anti-Plastic Bag Billboards around Town Featuring Real Philadelphians
Philly

Why Mural Arts Placed Anti-Plastic Bag Billboards around Town Featuring Real Philadelphians

Close your eyes (after you read the next sentence.) Now, picture someone holding a reusable bag.

What stereotypes come to mind? There’s a good chance that you’re picturing a white, middle class, ‘green’ consumer.

Trash Academy, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restored Spaces Initiative, recently held a photo shoot and invited the public to bring their reusable bags.  The end result? Billboards around the city featuring alternates to plastic bags.

Working with photographer Tieksha Smith and billboard designer Margaret Kearny, Trash Academy created a series of portraits featuring people with their favorite reusable bag.

The wide array of ages and backgrounds of people portrayed completely contradicts the common stereotype. Among students, the bag of choice was a backpack, in which students tote family groceries beside their textbooks. Purses and tote bags were the daily means of choice for older shoppers. This project celebrates Trash Academy’s Reusable Bag Heroes: people making a difference in caring for Philadelphia’s environment.

The Philadelphia Water Department found that plastic bags make up 17% of the total debris recovered by their skimming operations.

Why Trash Academy embarked on this project

Logan Welde Plastic Bag
Clean Air Council Attorney Logan Welde has advocated and lobbied for Philadelphia’s plastic bag legislation since 2013.

Trash Academy works with artists, community residents and high school student leaders to create a cleaner and more environmentally just Philadelphia. Trash Academy has set a goal to see all of Philadelphia’s diverse communities take action to promote reusable bags. According to Forbes, people use the 100 billion plastic bags consumed each year for an average of 12 minutes apiece.

Now that China has stopped importing materials we collect for recycling, including plastic bags, people are feeling the pressure to address this huge contributor to the 8 million metric tons of plastic waste clogging our oceans annually. The Philadelphia Water Department found that plastic bags make up 17% of the total debris recovered by their skimming operations.

Litter clogs our stormwater drains and contributes to flooding, requiring the Philadelphia Water Department to remove more than 67 tons of litter from drains and 12 tons of litter from the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers in 2017. Philadelphia’s litter index and 311 reporting show that business associations and residents of Philadelphia’s underserved communities bear the heaviest burden of litter. These communities also suffer a disproportionate burden to their health. Plastic pollution enters our bodies not only through the seafood we eat that has ingested plastics but through the toxic fumes released by incinerated bags.  

Low-income communities of color are disproportionately affected, as incineration facilities are often sited near them. Reusable bags are a common-sense alternative to single-use plastic bags, and their use can help foster a culture of sustainability and care for our environment and our communities.

From Trash to Turning political

Julie plastic bag billboard
Green Philly Editor Julie Hancher participated in this Trash Academy reusable bag campaign.

Trash Academy, in collaboration with Clean Water Action and the city of Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, has initiated a campaign to reduce the number of plastic bags in our streets and in our waste stream.  

To support action on this issue, Trash Academy is helping to form a diverse coalition of grassroots organizations, non-profits, block captains, and neighbors, while CWA will work with businesses and government.  Trash Academy participants have developed the campaign messaging in multiple artistic media, creating graphics, posters, banners, a website and costumes that can be used by coalition members to amplify their work for the protection of our city’s health and environment. 

Cleaning up matters in Philly: we can’t just sweep it under the rug. We’ve got to bring the complexities of the issue of trash and litter to public awareness to impact policy and behavior.

Join the City Council Hearing on Reusable Bags tomorrow, Tues Oct 22nd

The BYOBag Bill, No.190610 will be voted tomorrow, on Tuesday, October 22nd from 12:30-2:30 pm in City Hall Room 400.

If you’d like to call your City Council members to support this bill, contact them today.

plastic bag hearing philadelphia

Guest post by Shari Hersh for the Trash Academy & Mural Arts


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Julie Hancher
Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

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