“The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”

Since 1999 artists Judith and Richard Lang have collected over two tons of plastic debris from the same 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. They pick up caps, disposable lighters, combs, brushes, and tooth brushes (imagine the possibilities) and turn the trash into fine art.

Their work is both well regarded and quite beautiful, not at all what you would expect from washed-up junk. It may be a testament to an imagined, pristine world and belies their ability to tell a great story.

Take the pink flamingo, the tacky lawn trinket. The Langs found a head of one and were inspired to trace the roots of the once ubiquitous plastic bird. Union Plastics alone sold 20 million of them. People went nuts for the things, the Langs surmise, due to a 50s romance with retirement in Florida.

Plastic lasts forever.

Did you know that Crayola LLC introduced pink flamingo as a color in 1998? Have you heard of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, whose gambling palace hotel “Flamingo” pretty well marked his life and death as well as the invention of the city of Las Vegas?

These are the seeds of rich storytelling, the kind to seduce even the most vociferous “anti-environmentalist” or apathetic teenager to want to follow the real story behind Beach Plastic.

Here’s the deep truth: 10% of the trash found on beaches is a nurdle. As cute as it sounds, a nurdle is more chemical monster than cartoon character, and it lives in one form or another forever. It is the pre-production, 5mm plastic pellet used in manufacturing and packaging.

The nurdle is the precursor to all the toothbrushes, disposable lighters, plastic bags, and water bottles that we throw away.

Throw it away …Where is ‘Away’?” Richard asks. (The Langs actually sort by color and store all of their finds.) “If you do only one thing, never buy a plastic bottle of water again.”

I am reminded of the great discovery guru, the late Richard Feynman. He taught why merely knowing the name of something (“pink flamingo”, “plastic”) is the same as not knowing anything at all about it. This is an idea that is also close to our hearts. At Canogle we are working to make earth stewards out of more people by inspiring deeper knowledge of and a connection to our natural environment.

To learn about nurdles

Dr. Hideshige Takada, environmental geochemist from Tokyo University, analyzed the nurdles the Langs collected from Kehoe Beach. To learn more about his important work and how to collect nurdles for his study:

First-in-the-nation enforcement effort to eliminate the discharge of pre-production plastic into the waters of California

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