harley weir: plastic is not fantastic
British photographer Harley Weir began documenting the plastic waste around her in 2015. By posting the images she takes on her Instagram account with the hashtag #plasticneverdies, she hopes to raise awareness of the rubbish that’s destroying our world.
rubbish_1, Korea 2018 / rubbish_1, London 2016
This article originally appeared in i-D's The Earthwise Issue, no. 353, Fall 2018.
British fashion photographer Harley Weir has been photographing plastic since 2015, after a move to Peckham in south London opened her eyes to the urban rubbish crisis. “It was pretty much impossible to avoid,” Harley says. “It made me question my own consumption. Where is my rubbish going? Even though I’ve always hated waste, this was very worryingly the first time my eyes and ears had truly been opened to the debate.” With more than eight million tonnes of plastic dumped in our oceans every year, one million plastic water bottles bought worldwide every minute and nearly two million single use plastic bags distributed every minute, Harley was determined to raise awareness and take responsibility for her own impact on Planet Earth.
So she decided to use her camera and began documenting the plastic waste around her, posting her images on Instagram with the hashtag #plasticneverdies. Her large format, extreme close ups of colourful plastic bags and containers marooned in their environment look more like abstract artworks than rubbish. With our global plastic consummation reaching a critical high, and 91% of plastic waste still not being recycled, we caught up with Harley to discuss the vital steps we all must take right now to forge a plastic-free future…
Where have you been most shocked to discover the effects of plastic pollution?
It was sad to see the beauty of Nigeria shrouded in plastic. If people saw the black lakes of plastic running through Makoko, they might think a little before reaching for the Evian. Indonesia was covered... really there’s a corner in every country that’s ruined, a lot of the most beautiful beaches in southern Italy are full of garbage. New York’s beaches are totally engulfed. It’s everywhere... I’m not really shocked to see trash anywhere at this point. Unfortunately, travelling is an issue environmentally too. I’ve learnt so much from it, but I am now looking at ways to be more sparing and offset what I do.
What do you hope to achieve with this series?
I hope people will think about where their waste is going and be more considered with their consumption. It’s hard to know how to affect change but what’s important is to make sure people know that their actions matter. Spread the word, even if it’s just telling friends, it’s really important for everyone to be trying a little harder.
What can we do on a day-to-day basis to make a difference?
Say no to plastic! Get a reusable water bottle and coffee cup (engrave your name and number in it so you don’t loose it), bring reusable bags to the shops, avoid supermarkets, go to the greengrocer and shops that you can refill with your own containers, realise that you don’t need a thousand products to clean your house, find natural alternatives, do beach cleans, take public transport, cycle or walk instead of using cars, think before getting on planes, make your own lunches, bring your own containers for take away, ask for your drink without a straw... the list continues... just be considered. If someone as unorganised as me can make these changes, just about anyone can.
What’s your message to protect the environment?
Remember that your actions count. If you think that your change isn’t worthwhile, if you think that your one plastic bottle a day isn’t harming the world then consider every person that has that mentality and you’ll know that your change matters. If we all said no to single use plastic, if we all picked up a little rubbish every time we went to the beach, our seas and our world would be much less polluted.
Photography Harley Weir