Beach Balloon Killers



Balloons like these are fun in the moment, but turn deadly in the ocean.

The Trashman and Faithful Companion are not shy. They party with the best of them, especially during the summer at their home on Fire Island. But they shun the usual celebratory decorations: plastic cups, plastic streamers, plastic straws, plastic bags–and, of course, the ubiquitous plastic balloons.

Balloons are the number one enemy of marine life. Sadly, party people release them into the air at the end of the evening, forget them or leave them on the beach where they are swept into the ocean and eventually end up in the stomachs of birds and fish. And that’s it for the birds and the fish. Balloons seem so festive, but they become silent killers in our oceans, choking wildlife, cutting off air supplies. Faithful Companion and Trashman found these balloons last month. They picked them up. You should too.


It was a happy day for a lucky couple, but no so happy for marine life.


Birthdays come and go, but plastic stays for centuries in our oceans.


Dad would have been happier if the balloons ended up in the trash instead of the ocean.


The colors match the sea and the party decor, but they have no place in the ocean. 


Eco Warriors on the March


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The Eco-Warriors in front of the pyramids at Giza.

The Trashman and his Faithful Companion are connoisseurs of art made from garbage. They have looked at hundreds and hundreds of works, from the infinitesimal to the monumental, and it turns out that big actually is better. “Trash art has to be big to have an impact… because, well, trash as a problem is really, really  big,” Faithful observed the other day in her charming and succinct way.  Trashman thinks she’s on to something.

When it comes to big, German sculptor Ha Schult gives new meaning to that ironically small three-letter word. Schult creates life-size eco-warriors made out of crushed cans, computer parts, bottles and other discards. He places armies of them against well-known backdrops like the pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall in China.  He has made fully furnished beach houses from litter, and triumphal sculptures from old cars for the Cologne town center.

Visitors who see Schult’s work in person, or in photographs, can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of trash that goes into each installation. Where does it come from? Hummmm…. that, indeed, is the question.

And you know the answer.

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Schult’s  garbage figures are reflections of ourselves. Here they appear in the salt mines in Gorlebin.

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The  Save the Beach installation is a real house made of debris collected along international waterways.

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The interior of the Save the Beach house is decorated in plastic and discarded furniture.

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As a comment on the world’s dependence on oil and gas, the artist painted a Ford Fiesta in gold. He attached wings that reference Greek victory statues and mounted the sculpture on a memorial plinth in the civic center in Cologne, Germany. 

Train Trash



Did he pay for an extra ticket? No, but deposit laws have greatly reduced the amount of trash on trains. The small incentive to recycle cans and bottles pays big dividends for many.


Among other things to numerous to mention,  The Trashman is an expert on trains. Not model trains, or toy trains, but real trains. He and Faithful Companion have visited most of the major rail systems in the world, including Istanbul, Budapest, Russia, and of course, the United States. The one thing all trains have in common is trash. Everyday hundreds of laborers in the global universe spend thousands of hours picking up tons of garbage left behind by slothful passengers.  Only Singapore railroads and subways are trash-free, and that’s because the punishment for littering in that country is public flogging–something Faithful considers entre nous “a good idea.”

And where does all that trash go? The irony isn’t lost on Trashman that the garbage removed from trains is usually placed on other trains for transport to landfills. It’s an eternal cycle: trash in trains, trash out of trains, trash in trains. The cycle could end so easily if…well, you know,…if people just stopped littering.  Until then, as the Trashman says, things are picking up.


Train loads of trash travel by rail to final destinations in landfills.


The system of train trash removal works…until it doesn’t. Whoops…


Shift crews work at night to remove endless pounds of litter from train cars.




I Just Want To Say “I Love You”…



Cindy Pease Roe made this sign for our times from cigarette lighters and other garbage she found on beaches near her Greenport home.  A Pease Peace sign, perhaps.

The Trashman and his Faithful Companion spend many hours walking Fire Island beaches and picking up trash–mostly remnants of exuberant cocktail parties and assorted frolics. He is not clever enough to think of any purpose for garbage other than the garbage can. True, once upon a time the Trashman turned an empty Chianti bottle into a candle-holder, but Faithful Companion dismissed his efforts as derivative. His creative impulse was forever crushed.

Cindy Pease Roe, an artist from Greenport, Long Island, has managed to do exactly what the Trashman could not. She turns debris she collects from our shores into colorful sculptures of marine life and endangered species. In February, she will expand her repertoire to include valentines made of trash. Happily, she will share her skills with Long Islanders at a special family celebration on February 9th at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton. Information and sign-ups are available on the Museum website: See you there.


An “eco-artist”, Ms. Roe’s work reflects her respect for the ocean and its fate.

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Abandoned fishing nets and twine are among the most hazardous threats to marine life.


Though most of her work is whimsical and decorative, this sculpture comments on the environmental dangers of plastic in a poignant and serious way.

Tiny Trash Treasures



It’s Autumn inside this McDonald’s bag, which contains Yuken Teruya’s miniature tree.

The Trashman understands the irresistible pull of the Big Mac, the Whopper and the Quarter-Pounder. Once a year, he and Faithful Companion stage their own personal Fast Food Olympics in which they wolf down samples from every food chain within 20 miles.  And the Gold always goes to McDonald’s. But take-away means throw-away, and that means inevitable trash…unless Yuken Teruya finds it first.

Teruya is a Japanese artist who creates miniature universes from the packaging we leave behind: paper towel dowels, boxes from luxury goods and, yes, McDonald’s bags and Happy Meal containers.

Teruya uses traditional craft techniques to turn trash into subtle meditations on sources and origins. To make his McDonald’s diorama, he cut a tree from the side of a McDonald’s paper bag, then pushed the tree back inside the container. The container became a stage, and the tree became the front and center player. “I get it, ” said Faithful when she spied a small Teruya sculpture at an open house event last weekend at Elizabeth Foundation where the artist has a studio. “The McDonald’s bag is made of paper…and paper comes from trees…and now the tree is made of paper and inside the bag.”  Yes.  That.  Is.  Correct. You gotta love Faithful. And Trashman does.

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Teruya created an enchanted forest from discarded paper towel and toilet paper rolls.

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Money is no object…or is it an object? Teruya’s tree grows in Washington, D.C. in this subtle and poetic comment on the fate of the environment.

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Teruya is a master of the ancient art of cut paper. Here he has filled stacks of toilet paper rolls  with intricate scenes of everyday life.

Reusable Universe


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This creature appeared in Reusable Universe, Huang’s installation at the Worcester Museum

When the Trashman and Faithful Companion first saw an installation by Shih Chieh Huang, they didn’t know what they were looking at. It was all so…impressive. So Trashman was surprised to learn that everything this Taiwanese artist uses is upcycled, as they say in environment-speak. That means the work is made of stuff that ordinarily ends up in landfills.  In a recent TED Talk, Huang described his childhood fascination with taking things apart and putting them together in unexpected ways. Back then, his usual target was his brother’s toys and his parents closets. Fortunately, they were also his first fans. Now he has a world-wide audience

In 2007, the Smithsonian Institute gave Huang a grant to study bio-luminescence in marine environments, and he quickly learned that plastic in oceans is the number one threat to sea life.  His fascination and concern for glowing sea creatures became the foundation of his art. Today everything he makes is out of garbage bags, plastic tubing, LED lights and household electronics. And nothing gets thrown away.

The Trashman salutes him.

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Huang uses materials that can easily be found in Dollar Stores anywhere

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More than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced in the past decade, most of it the kind of packing materials Huang uses in his massive installations.

Wave Action


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There’s no ship in this bottle, one of many washed ashore on Fire Island.

“Ahoy, Matey…I spy plastic,” said Faithful Companion in full-blown nautical mode, as she and the Trashman walked along the not-so-pristine sands of Fire Island. Their recent vacation was awash in litter. Big waves and small waves brought in daily deposits of everything from party balloons to water bottles. Scientists speculate that in the not so distant future there will be more garbage than water in our oceans. Scary.

The increasing amounts of trash in our waterways got the Trashman thinking about waves. For centuries artists and philosophers have been fascinated with this force of nature–an eternal motion that is ever constant and ever changing. Heraclitus, that canny Greek, got it right: “No man steps in a river twice.” Or  a wave…  Trashman thinks the existential puzzle inherent in any contemplation of waves recedes in the presence of their sheer beauty. It’s summer, after all… So here are a few of his favorite waves. Without the plastic.



Katsushika Hokusai’s Great Wave Off Kanagwa may be the world’s most famous wave.  Created in the late 18th Century Edo Period in Japan, the work galvanized the French Impressionists and revolutionized western art.


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Passionate  and eccentric, Turner lashed himself to a ship mast during a storm to experience killer waves first-hand. His Ship in Storm, 1842, laid the foundation for abstract expressionism.


Clifford Ross Wave Hurricane

Like Turner decades before him, Clifford Ross tethers himself to  the shore, then ventures into hurricane seas to photograph waves in all their fury.


Wave Zaria Forman2

Zaria Forman doesn’t use brushes to capture wave action on canvas. Instead she paints with her hands, creating thick impastoed surfaces that mimic the ebb and flow of the sea. Her large-scale paintings of waves and icebergs reflect her interest in climate change.


Wave Paul DeSomma Marsha Blaker2

Artists don’t just paint those waves. Paul DeSomma and Marsha Blaker collaborate to make a splash with glass.


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Jean Shin uses found and repurposed materials to create sculptures that reflect our consumer society.  They often make a point through humor. Trashman likes that.


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Clifford Ross has created enormous facsimiles of waves using LED lights–millions of them–and advanced computer software. His walls of waves are now on view at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, NY.


Wave Vija Clemins

Vija Celmins eerie renderings of sea and sky are almost photographic. Her exquisite drawings are a product of time, patience and precision–just like nature itself.