Glass artwork explores Brave New World of recycling

Tuesday, 19 June

A new artwork by Nimbin-based artist Papillon (aka Dr Patrick Smith) uses recycled glass from the Lismore Recycling & Recovery Centre to question the costs of our consumer culture.

Using recycled glass and construction adhesive, the former CSIRO scientist has created a suspended installation of a crumbling Earth which sends a poignant message about humanity’s inability to effectively recycle the waste we create.

Entitled Brave New World, the artwork was recently exhibited as part of Taming Space in Sydney, an exhibition exploring human interaction with the environment at the contemporary art space 107 Projects in Redfern.

Papillon was inspired to create the work after learning that while Lismore City Council crushes glass into sand for use in road base and pipe bedding, most other councils stockpile the product or send it to landfill.

“Despite being infinitely recyclable and environmentally safe, and despite nation-wide recycling programs with huge public support, there is actually now no market for recycled glass in Australia since China stopped importing our waste in 2018,” Papillon said.

“This work seeks to highlight the insanity of an economic system where plastic packaging shipped vast distances by fossil fuels makes more ‘economic sense’ than using local recycled glass.

“Our consumer culture produces ludicrous amounts of waste – and we’re trying to recycle it – but on a global scale we’re not doing a very good job. It doesn’t bode well for the future. If we can’t recycle something as easy, natural and safe as glass, then we are in real trouble.”

An environmental scientist, Papillon said he uses art as a way to comment on what he describes as an unsustainable way of life and level of waste production.

“I have spent my whole career researching the impacts of human activity on the environment and it’s a really sad story, but few people want to listen. I turned to art to express some of the things I couldn’t express as a scientist,” he said.

“You can shout from the rooftops about climate change and unsustainable resource use, but as a scientist it’s hard to be heard over the noise of our consumer culture. As an artist, I can express some of the frustration I feel – it’s a different way to get people thinking about sustainability and the environment, and the impact of the choices we are making as a society.

“Our community and Council have taken some really positive steps towards sustainability in recent years. I really want to encourage everyone to keep going, to do more, to do even better.”

Since China’s changes to its National Sword policy, Council has been finding new markets within Australia for its plastics, cardboard and paper recycling streams, which were previously sent overseas.

More commercial markets become available for the sale of recyclables when the different recycling streams are cleaner. Council is encouraging all residents to be mindful of keeping contaminants out of their yellow recycling bins.

“While the policy change in China is presenting challenges for councils across Australia, the good news is that it’s a catalyst for innovation and change within the industry,” Council’s Business Development Manager Danielle Hanigan said.

“Local councils and state and federal governments are now looking for solutions to process recycling on-shore, which is good for jobs and ultimately better for the environment.

“We are also exploring possibilities within the Northern Rivers to remanufacture plastics, paper and cardboard and build entirely closed loop systems just like our recycled glass.”

The best thing residents can do at home is avoid over-packaged products and choose to reuse (think coffee cups, drink bottles, and saying no to plastic bags).

Council is also asking residents to follow the simple rules below.

  • Keep your recycling clean. Most things that are fairly clean are fine, like an empty beer bottle, but if something has lots of food in it, please give it a rinse.
  • Do not put anything into your recycling bin that cannot be recycled. Keep it simple: aluminium, steel, glass, hard plastic, bagged up soft plastic, paper and cardboard.
  • Do not put anything smaller than a business card size into your recycling bin.
  • Keep stuff like hoses, pipes and anything that has many different types of materials in it (e.g. a plastic toy with bits of steel) out of your recycling bin.
  • Keep contamination out. The main offenders are: dirty nappies, clothing, shoes and anything that can get tangled up such as rope, hose and fairy lights.

A Brave New World will be on display at the Lismore Library until Sunday, 1 July 2018.

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