Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ten Questions: Dianna Cohen, Artist


As an artist what inspired you to use plastics as a medium for your work?

The plastic bag has one of the shortest intended life spans.
      And yet, lasts forever.

Having worked with the plastic bag as my primary material for the past twenty years, all of the obvious references to recycling, first-world culture, class, high and low art give way to an almost formal process which reflects the unique flexibility of the medium.

Cut like paper, sewn like fabric, these constructions have been presented as flat art (framed or mounted) with crumpled and shiny surfaces that are dulled by dirt and time: un-useful pieces of their former selves. The work is becoming more sculptural; literally folding off of the wall, hinged by discombobulated handles, the real potential of the medium presents itself to me.

The material’s relationship to marketing and advertisement culture is ever present, unavoidable and inherent in my work. The graphic text on the bags often influences the theme of a piece, but just as often disappears into the background of color, almost becoming subliminal in the work.

The somewhat dirty, hands-on approach involved in working with what has already become trash and the labor involved in the sewing process directly belie the promise and mythology of convenience that the plastic bag represents. In this juxtaposition lives the alchemy of my work, like the alchemy of plastic itself.


How did the Plastic Pollution Coalition come into fruition and what is the mission of the organization?

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals and the environment. PPC was founded in 2009.

What is the Pacific Garbage Patch/gyre?

The North Pacific Gyre, the most heavily researched for plastic pollution, spans an area roughly twice the size of the United States (approximately 2000 square miles) – though it is a fluid system, shifting seasonally in size and shape. Designed to last, plastic trash in the gyre will remain for decades or longer, being pushed gently in a slow, clockwise spiral towards the center. Most of the research on plastic trash circulating in oceanic gyres has focused on the North Pacific, but there are 5 major oceanic gyres of the 11 gyres worldwide, which include several smaller gyres in Alaska and Antarctica. Marine researchers don’t yet know the extent to which plastic pollution exists in the world’s oceans.

From your perspective, will this problem extend to other oceans over time? 
Designed to last, plastic trash in the gyre will remain for decades, centuries or longer, being pushed gently in a slow, clockwise spiral towards the center. Yes, this extends to all oceans, and the ocean of the planet in it’s entirety. Plastic particles are being found in the majority of ocean samples.

Another great source of info on the Pacific Garbage patch is:

the movie, Plastic Paradise :

and out TEDxGreat Pacific garbage Patch videos:


If a typical family of four consumes cases of plastic water bottles weekly, what are the ramifications on a global scale?

Maybe we think bottled water is cleaner and somehow better, but that's not true. The federal standards for tap water are higher than those for bottled water.

The Environmental Law Foundation has sued eight bottlers for using words such as "pure" to market water that contains bacteria, arsenic and chlorine.

Bottled water costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. For the price of one bottle of Evian, a San Franciscan can receive 1,000 gallons of tap water. Forty percent of bottled water should be labeled bottled tap water because that is exactly what it is.

Simply deciding not to use plastic water bottles in favor of green water bottles can save you thousands of dollars a year.
On a global scale, the ramifications are first and foremost that each family buying plastic bottled water is potentially being dosed with Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) which leach from those bottles into the liquid contained inside. These chemicals have been linked to a wide array of human illnesses including:

Cancer: Breast, Ovarian, Prostate, and Others Reproductive Disorders

Reduced Fertility, Low Sperm Counts, Early Puberty, Menstrual Disorders, Early Menopause

Metabolic Disorders

Diabetes, Obesity

Immune Disorders

Increases in Immune and Autoimmune Diseases

Cardiovascular Disease

Learning Disabilities

The majority of BPA-free water and baby bottles leached estrogenic compounds, raising concerns about BPA-free Plastics*


*Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan C, Klein DJ, Bittner GD (2011). Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: A potential health problem that can be solved. Environmental Health Perspectives. 119(7):989-96



“From the beginning stages of making a plastic bottle, it's costing you money in more ways than one. The process sends pollution to our air and water. While the Earth is made up of about 75% water, it doesn't help us if it's all polluted. The cost to cleanse the water to make it safe to drink is costly, and it can raise your water bills drastically. Once the plastic bottles are made, filled with liquid, and packaged to sell, the damage is done. One small throw-away plastic bottle can take 1000 years to disintegrate. In the meantime they are filling our landfills faster than they decompose. Continued use of plastic water bottles could very well mean a landfill may be in your backyard in the near future. Using green water bottles helps to solve these problems.


Making the change to safe water bottles alone can save you a lot of money. Think about how many times during your workday you go to the vending machine and get a drink. If you consume your beverages out of three plastic bottles per day you are spending $139.50 each month. That's $1674 per year that you could be saving! That's enough money to pay for your next vacation! Consider how many plastic bottles your family goes through each day, and then think about how many families are in this world. That's a lot of plastic and the majority of people don't even recycle.” -









In your research, is there a direct correlation between plastic use and the increasing prevalence of cancer?


The plasticizers used to make plastics transparent, supple, and malleable are known to be Endocrine disruptors., which have been linked to Alzheimer’s, Autism, Obesity and Diabetes, Lower sexual function, Sterility, Infertility, Breast cancer, Brain cancer, and Prostate cancer. Exposure to these chemicals to babies in utero has been linked to lower IQ, shortened ano-genital distance, feminization of boys, and early menses in girls. (See list above)


What are some ways in which harmful plastic chemicals pass into our bodies and cause illness?


These chemicals leach from plastic packaging and the plastic which we store our food & beverages in, and release harmful chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system.


In your TED talk, you mentioned that “7% of the plastic in America actually gets recycled.” Can you explain this statement?


In the United States, less than seven percent of our plastics are recycled. And if you really look into it, particularly when it comes to plastic bottles, most of it is only down-cycled, or incinerated, or shipped to China. It is down-cycled and turned into lesser things, while a glass bottle can be a glass bottle again or can be used again -- a plastic bottle can never be a plastic bottle again. 


TED Talks Links
Dianna Cohen:

Chris Jordan:
            Charles Moore:

             Van Jones:


If we continue to consume plastic material, what ramifications can be expected for our planet and future generations?

If we continue to consume plastic materials & the toxins which leach from them into our food, bodies and the bodies of fish and animals that we depend upon for protein, the ramifications for our planet and future generations include a diseased, limited, toxic and life-shortening future.


How can we become involved in your project and can you share some important links for educational purposes?


Single-use disposable plastics are the greatest source of plastic pollution on the planet. Resolve to Refuse in 2014.


Disposable plastic items are so common that it’s easy to not notice them, but they’re everywhere– from ubiquitous plastic bottles to plastic straws, lids, bags, cups, utensils, plates and packaging – it surrounds us. See it for what it is—plastic pollution— and just say NO.


Join Plastic Pollution Coalition and resolve to follow the “4 Rs” of sustainable living: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle.



Link to sign the Refuse pledge:


Follow us on:

 Twitter:  @plasticpollutes


Join Plastic Free Campuses and reduce the plastic footprint at your school:


Also, what can individuals do to avoid plastic?


Disposable plastic items are so common that it’s easy not to notice them. But disposable plastic is everywhere — the ubiquitous plastic bottles of water or soft drinks; the plastic straws delivered in our drinks; the plastic bags offered to us at stores; the plastic cups, bottles and utensils at nearly every social event; the plastic packaging of nearly everything in the supermarket. Once you see it for what it is — plastic pollution — it’s simple to just REFUSE. Here are some tips on how to reduce your own plastic footprint.

1. Water

Bring a stainless steel water bottle rather than drinking water out of disposable plastic bottles. Purchase a cool water bottle at our online store here or grab one at just about any store. Just make sure it is not aluminum. Don’t have your stainless steel bottle with you? Buy a glass-bottled drink. When you finish that beverage, reuse the bottle.

2. Bring Your Own Bag

Always bring your own bags whenever you shop, not just for the supermarket. By bringing your own bag, you alone can save between 400 and 600 plastic bags per year. There are lots of cool tote bag companies out there. Just a few of the bags we like:

Chico bags – wonderful, small and easy to carry around in lots of colors
Project GreenBag – organic cotton bags, made in San Francisco
Citizenlove - designs by our co-founder Dianna Cohen
Envirosax – very popular in Europe
Mothering Mother – great produce bags

3. Straws

Consider some easy alternatives to the ubiquitous plastic straws that come in nearly every restaurant glass:

“No straw for me, please.” Do you really need one?
Carry your own stainless steel straw! You can purchase these from our online store 
Use an elegant glass straw in many sizes and designs. We also love glass straws from 
Simply Straws or Glass Dharma.
Straws made from paper are more and more common. Bring your own or find restaurants that offer them.

4. To Go Cups

Bring your own stainless steel or ceramic mug. Carry one in your car. Some coffee shops will even reward your thoughtfulness with a small discount on coffee or tea. Hot drinks always taste better in durable ceramic, anyway! Like milk cartons, those cardboard cups often have a plastic lining, so in effect they are plastic. All to-go cups have that plastic lid, a major contributor to plastic pollution.

5. To Go Food Containers

Whether you prepare school lunch, order takeout, or go out to eat, take along your own reusable containers for sandwiches, snacks, and leftovers. Some of the sites where you can purchase one:

Lunchbots – purchase from our online store here.
Life Without Plastic

6. To Go Utensils

Bring along your own lightweight bamboo utensil set! They’re much sturdier, cleaner, and better for you than plastic knives and forks! Add a stainless steel straw, and you’re all set! This handy carrying case can travel with you in the car, on the airplane, or wherever you go. You can purchase beautiful sets at our online store here


7. Lighters

Rather than buy plastic disposable lighters, consider investing in a refillable multi-use lighter. The oceans of the world will thank you, as will all those birds and marine life who mistake their bright colors for food. Disposable plastic lighters are one of the most common items found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch trash analyses.


8. Milk or Juice

Where possible, buy your milk or juice in a glass returnable/reusable bottle. It may seem old fashioned, but it tastes great, and it’s better for you. You may have to look for it, but many local shops and even some larger ones carry glass-bottled milk and juice. Those oh-so-common cartons may look like cardboard, but they have a layered plastic lining which is a problem not only for disposal and recycling, but also for your health!

9. Choose Paper to Wrap

Wax paper is an excellent substitute to the ubiquitous stretch plastic wrap we have been told is essential for cooking and preserving foods. Choose wax paper to wrap sandwiches, place on top of foods warmed up in the microwave, or when storing food in the fridge. Yes, it doesn’t stick to foods like the plastic wrap does – but that’s exactly what’s good about it!


10. Ready to do more?

Download a more complete list of plastic objects and alternatives here.

Visit our 
Plastic Free Times and learn more.




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