Foreshortening corrections: 'The return of my detritus'

Since my last blogpost, I’ve been imagining what it would be like if our rubbish forced it’s way back into our lives. Here is the resulting drawing. Wondering if it is clear that the artist is looking at the rubbish which is indeed you, the viewer?!

Half way through the drawing I realised the legs were too long. This is a common mistake to make as our brain often wants to lengthen the limbs even if they are foreshortened because of the angle of vision. I did this drawing from my reflection and due to standing quite close to the mirror my upper body was closer to my line of vision and therefore appeared bigger. The brain does funny things though and wants to adhere to what Betty Edwards (Drawing on the right hand side of the brain) calls the symbol system, drawing things how they should be and not how they are.

I’m not overly precious about everything being exact but I wanted to evoke a feeling of disorientation in the viewer and as if the pile of rubbish mounting in the foreground was dwarfing her. So I felt it necessary to make the adjustments.

Please note, the vlog was not sponsored by Sellotape.

The return of the detritus!

Our recycling is working it’s way back to us. And it’s not been given the new leash of life we were promised

There is a certain self worth one feels when putting out the carefully washed and sorted recycling for collection. Doing this, we are promised, enables all this ‘stuff’ to reenter the circular economy (recover and regenerate materials to reuse). But the reality is that only about 9% of our recycling gets recycled. So where does the rest end up?

“What the citizens of the UK [and other countries] think they have sent for recycling are actually being dumped in our country … Malaysians have a right to clean air, clean water and a clean environment to live in, just like citizens of developed nations.”

“Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world,” … “We will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we can’t be bullied by developed countries.’’

Malaysia’s environment minister  Yeo Bee Yin

Household plastic waste from the UK found at a dump site in Ipoh, Malaysia. Photo: Unearthed.

Household plastic waste from the UK found at a dump site in Ipoh, Malaysia. Photo: Unearthed.


This week, Malaysia’s environment minister  Yeo Bee Yin assertively told us that they wouldn’t put up with our illegal waste exports anymore. They will send it back. And yes, a lot of it is our recycling we spend time sorting. Developed countries, like the UK embarrassingly don’t have the infrastructure to support the volume of recycling we produce, ‘plastic needs to be sorted into its separate polymers and formats in order to facilitate final reprocessing back into reusable pellets’ (Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd.) If we can’t do it, how do we expect the developing countries to be able to! But it is cheaper for us to put it on a boat and export it. Until January 2018 China took on our recycling but because we imported so much that was badly sorted and contaminated they closed their doors. Our own recycling infrastructure cannot cope with the vast quantities we create. And because we have high regulations it’s easier to export it to countries with lower regulations than us. So as long as our recycling isn’t being recycled with makeshift, dangerous and toxic methods on OUR own precious, beautiful land- who cares! Out of sight, out of mind!



“You [developed countries] have so-called high recycling rates; as citizens do you know where your plastic waste and pollution ends up? It’s in other people’s countries, affecting other people’s children. Your recycling rate is nothing to be proud of,”

Dr Theng [an independent waste consultant]

Yeah I admit it must be a terrible eyesore, but it’s not like plastic rots and can affect health?

‘‘A former civil servant, who declined to be quoted by name, said the smells were sometimes so strong they would pervade the house even when windows and doors were closed. He added that he had noticed increased pollution in the river over the past couple of years,

“There are still some fish but you wouldn’t want to eat them… We used to take wild tiger prawns from the river. Now there are none left. There’s something wrong.”

CK Lee, a local solicitor who works with the Kuala Langat Environmental Association, said:

“Local residents were having breathing difficulties, having difficulty to sleep, feeling nausea, [and] feeling unwell.”

Quotes takes from: UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia Unearthed October 2018

‘…as long as we keep sending poorly sorted plastic overseas for reprocessing a significant proportion of this mix will end up in open landfill, the rivers and then oceans overseas.”

The solution, she suggests, is to make products more recyclable, collect these and reprocess them in the UK, adding: “Exported plastics should be of a sorted, single polymer stream or format so that overseas reprocessors do not have to re-sort it and throw out what they can’t use. Only this is going to address our contribution to the problem of ocean plastic.”

Jessica Baker, Director at Chase Plastics Ltd,



Further reading:

UK household plastics found in illegal dumps in Malaysia Unearthed October 2018

Malaysia to send up to 100 tonnes of plastic waste back to Australia Guardian May 2019

Why the world’s recycling system stopped working Financial Times October 2018

Government ‘clutching at straws’ over waste plastic exports Axion Circular economy specialists June 2018

Individual action is important!

Recycle less, not more. Moving towards zero waste.

Now, what I have written here is simplified and I must confess I always feel overwhelmed when I read into it and try to distill the information. As always, I try to suggest something that consumers can do, because I believe fervently that individual action is important. Now that self worth serotonin hit we get from recycling is somewhat dampened, what can we do? Prevention is key here. And that will mean something different to everyone. I suggest coming up with realistic goals. When I gave up single use plastic I started with food because there was a market shop near my house in London and it was easy to go in after work. I highly recommend watching Bea Johnson author of ‘Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate guide to simplifying your life by reducing your waste’. I love her message; recycle less, not more. REFUSE, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. In that order! See more at zerowastehome.com

Feeling guilty? Feeling judgemental?

Once you start to live by these rules it’s very easy to start judging people who don’t. And even if you don’t judge them, it’s often difficult to talk about what you are doing without it sounding that way! Someone who I find endlessly inspiring is Andrea Marie Saunders, a mindfulness meditation teacher and artist who believes you should meet people where they are on their own journey. There is no point in guilt (something I struggle a lot with) for being part of a system that we did not design.

She appreciates that living zero waste is easier for her because of her privileges as white, abled bodied (can walk, ride a bike) woman living in an affluent town in Colorado who has access to bulk stores and farmer’s markets. Andrea appreciates that zero waste is currently impossible due to our infrastructure. She encourages people to do what they can to move towards it.

Live Electrical Waste drawing at Odd Macc Folk night!

On Wednesday I was asked along with folk singers, poets and artists from Macclesfield to perform at The Print Mill for a spring evening of music and laughter. As a teacher I have done many live demonstrations, some with London Drawing that go on for about 20 minutes so didn’t think this would be much different. However, it was more challenging than I thought. Usually my cable drawings take a few days to do and sometimes I sit and stare at them for hours at a time working out the composition. With this, I only had 90 minutes so I launched in with almost no thought as to what I was doing. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the point where I felt fully engaged with the entangled cables so I’m not too fond of the final one. It was a super evening though and I enjoyed being able to draw while listening to the sounds of the busy evening.

The woman with the hat who bobs her head in , is Dr Deborah Maw the biochemist and environmental artist who gave the Microplastics talk last week (see last blog entry).

This was my first live drawing video so naturally it was a makeshift production, my phone is sellotaped to my tripod! I have loads to learn with regards to filming (lighting, post-production, sound etc) so am looking forward to doing more. I’ve been commissioned to do another drawing of a levitating lump of cables so I’m going to film it and discuss the process in detail.

Burping cows cause climate crisis!? I’ll believe it when I see it!

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The link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods feels tenuous because methane and C02 is not visible. Photo: Taken by me in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

The link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods feels tenuous because methane and C02 is not visible. Photo: Taken by me in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Do we have a better understanding of the plastic pollution problem because the objects are visibly and physically present in our lives? Whereas the ideas of Climate Breakdown is less easy to ‘grasp’ because methane and C02 is impossible to ‘grasp’…

On Thursday I went to see Dr Deborah Maw, Biochemist and Environmental Artist at the Bollington Arts Festival, talk about her experience with Exxpedition that sailed around the British Isles in 2017.

‘Sailing for 19 days aboard 72-foot vessel Sea Dragon, the team sampled the ocean for plastics and pollutants, feeding these results into wider studies examining the impacts of toxics and plastic pollutants on personal and environmental health. Studies have shown that humans have over 700 foreign synthetic chemicals in our bodies, so the team also underwent 'Body Burden' analysis, a UN Environmental Program initiative to assess our personal exposure to known toxic substances, shed light on the science of ecotoxicology and its relationship with disease rates.

Above all, eXXpedition is a mission to inspire hope for a healthier future. ‘

Extract from description with documentary and website.

Link to Dr. Deborah Maw’s blog

Dr Maw explained that one of the main objectives of the expedition was to make the ‘unseen, seen’. Exxpedition, Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ and the various campaigns over the last few years on tackling plastic pollution has been a giant success in terms of spreading awareness. We are now familiar with the vocabulary ‘single use’ and images of the colourful plastic detritus scattered across beeches and plastic bags blowing gently in the wind are common to us all. Visual quotes like ‘by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans’ are unforgettable. Indeed, the plastic bottle is like the poster girl for the campaign! People are taking action in their personal lives and increasingly corporations and governments are putting in place objectives to cut down on usage. So, two years after Dr Maw’s journey with Exxpedition I would say that yes the ‘unseen’ is now ‘seen’. As Dr Maw told us, if we all stopped using single use plastics it would significantly cut down on the plastic problem.

How else is the ‘unseen’ plastic problem woven into our lives?

But the ‘unseen’ bit has really made me think about the visibility of other environmental causes. Plastic has been villainised. We are all familiar with it. We’ve held it in our hands. Found them on empty bus seats. Casually dropped them in the bin. Ignored them lying on the curb. Learnt to hate them. And now increasingly (unless your algorithms don’t show it to you), we see the harrowing photographs of them, crawling, squeezing along rivers in developing countries poisoning environments. On mass they resemble a Slush Puppie being sucked through a narrow straw. In early 2018 for the first time I read about how the thousands of microplastics are released from petroleum based fabrics (polyester, poly blends, nylon) when washing. I’d been living single use plastic free lifestyle for about a year and I only bought clothes second hand due to the ethical and environmental problems with fast fashion. Everytime I washed my clothes, second hand or just old, I was flushing thousands of microplastics into the water. This news was alarming considering I thought I was doing well on the no-plastic front! It’s interesting that I’d only been concentrating of plastics that I could see; plastic bottles, packaging etc. These microscopic plastics found in fabrics can’t be ‘seen’ and therefore easy to ignore. The definition of mico-plastic is anything smaller than 5mm. I can ‘see’ 5mm with a naked eye. I’ve seen thousands of photos of beaches with bits of plastic debri of 5mm. But the micro-plastics from my clothes? Nope I can’t see this with my naked eye at all.

Individual action is important! And be loud about it- share with your friends! Usually about £25. A short tutorial on how to wash synthetic clothes with the Guppyfriend washing bag. www.guppyfriend.com Learn more about microplastic pollution: www.stopmicrowaste.com

And what happens to these as they are flushed out? Dr. Maw explained that they don’t float as you would expect. They sink, joining the sludge at the bottom of the sewer which is then collected and used as manure. Yup, the microplastics are spread on the fields that grow our food. Eww. Bummer. That sounds like bad news to me (another thing that Exxpedition were doing were testing how chemicals are affecting health- see more on their website or documentary. Plastics attract certain chemicals forming toxic bonds. And in our body they are stored in fat). One way you can prevent this, Dr Maw explained, is to use a Guppy bag that stops most of the microplastics from seeping into the water. At the end of the wash they then collect in the seams and you can put in the recycling bin (?) or in the bin. No perfect solution yet, but as one audience member confirmed, there isn’t any plastic in the world that can’t be recycled, only that we don’t have the infrastructure of recycle it currently.

I can’t SEE the link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods

So only when we use the Guppy bag to collect the microplastics can we see them collected in the seams. Which is probably why this area of concern hasn’t taken off as much. If the plastic pollution campaign has really taken off because beaches and plastic filled belly’s it can be easily and emotively documented, is this why people can’t relate so easily to climate change? Yes, we see news reports from around the world of weather, fires, floods, melting ice caps. But somehow, even with a good understanding of science, it is still difficult to relate this back to eating steak for dinner or taking a flight somewhere. The link between my dinner and the Mozambique floods feels tenuous. Imagine I am watching a YouTube video of a bird having its (link) stomach pumped and a chewed up Highland Spring bottle top is thrown up and I’m sat there, drinking from a Highland Spring bottle, well, you know, I’m going to see the part I play in the problem. It’s visible. Let’s just pause on the ‘holding’ part. I can ‘hold’ it in my hand, grasp it. But climate change you can’t. Perhaps physically grasping something helps us grasp the idea better. Just as throwaway plastics have become the villain of plastic pollution, meat and flights are that of climate change. And it’s almost absurd to think that cow’s burping up methane gas is a huge part of the problem.  I’ve been chased by cows across a field before, the visual memory of calfs enthusiastically running towards me is burned into my memory. But cows burping? Pah! I’ll believe it when I see it! I have NEVER seen a cow burp. Or maybe I’ve just not noticed it. I guess it would be easy to miss, it’s not like a cartoon cloud of fluorescent green methane would dissipate up into the cartoon blue sky. I’m not a scientist but I believe the Climate Crisis is real even though I can’t ‘see’ the link from me to it with my naked eye. This may explain why the campaign for considering washing clothes differently hasn’t taken off as well as single use. It’s simply difficult for us to comprehend that ominous microplastics lurk inside the fibres of our clothes waiting to be released.

Highland Spring immersive detritus

And all this philosophising about invisibility vs visibility ties very nicely into this weird detritus left over by the Highland Spring advertising campaign in Manchester Piccadilly train station. I saw it on Friday evening. I’m assuming the ‘happy to help’ representatives in branded t-shirts and had gone home for the week and that there had been some sort of immersive technological element to it. But now the highland imitation stood eerily silent among the hustle and bustle of the station tightly guarded by the yellow plastic roadwork barriers. Not a plastic bottle insight. Only the cool highland water running down the screen.

Craftivist Collective- Changing our world one stitch at a time...

Is hurtling your milkshake at politicians a good way to get their attention? I think Craftivist Collective has a kinder, thoughtful and more strategic way…

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Every five years in Bollington, the village near me in Macclesfield hold a festival which hosts music, films, walks, dancing, art exhibitions and talks. Tonight Sarah Corbett who started the Craftivist Collective came all the way from London to come and speak to us.

‘The Craftivist Collective is exactly that – a collective, an inclusive group of people committed to using thoughtful, beautiful crafted works to help themselves and encourage others be the positive change they wish to see in the world.’

@craftivists #gentleprotest #craftivist

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Usually when I think of political and environmental activism I think of loud and in your face protests with banners and all sorts of ‘disobedient objects’ (oh how I loved that V&A exhibition in 2014). Or the images of punks with subversive messages scrawled on their clothes (biography of Vivienne Westwood in the 70s and 80s rocked my world as a teenager). Often the voice of this sort of activism shouts ‘WE OPPOSE YOU’. And as I write this, current trend for sharing photos and videos of Tommy Robinson and Nigel Farage lookin forlorn and understandiably pissed off after milkshakes have been hurled at them, are being shared on social media. While Sarah didn’t mention this in her talk she did ask us if we would engage with and listen to people throwing eggs at us? NO- it would only anger us as a knee jerk reaction! She believes it is important not to demonise the people you are trying to get to listen, even if it makes other people laugh momentarily. Craftivist Collective is about empowering people to be activists with methods that will be effective instead of only inflammatory. Activism should inspire positive action not aggression.

Craftivism Collective workshops

At these workshops people are invited to consider carefully the message they want to give to whoever they feel can make the change they want to see in the world. The way the craftivism is received is important as ‘everyone likes positive surprises’ which gives you a little dopamine hit. Sarah showed us examples of hankerchiefs with the words ‘Don’t blow it…’ neatly embroidered. If you receive a piece of intimate craft that has had very human time and care put into it, you are more likely to keep it and engage with it.

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Shopdropping

My favourite piece of activism Sarah discussed, and I have heard people talking about this before, is Shopdropping. People dropping their craftivism into the pockets of fast fashion in the shops. Imagine trying on clothes in a shop and finding a little message inside asking you to consider it’s ethical and environmental journey to you! You can hear more on Wardrobe Crisis podcast (incidentally one of my favourite podcasts about ethical and sustainable fashion).

As I have been so inspired by The Craftivist Collective subversive methods I have come straight from Sarah’s talk and written up this blog post quickly before I go to bed. But it has really thrown up a lot of questions for me and my own art. How am I inspiring empathy in my work? Does my work inspire action or leave people feeling down in the dumps? Is my work just about raising awareness or true activism? What is true activism? Should activism always be about the result or is the process important too? How can knowledge of psychology and neuroscience help us protest effectively? Does impact have to be LOUD? Or can it be kind, stitched and intimate?

Big thank you to Sarah for coming all the way to Bollington and to Josie Spinks (who was my A Level English Lit teacher! Woop!) for inviting Sarah to come and deliver this inspirational talk.

See more on Twitter and Instagram @craftivist. And of course the website .

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Finally need that one wire!

If you’re familiar with my work you’ll know that I like drawing from redundant objects, particularly lamps and cables. I first started drawing my pile o’ wires about two years ago when I stop being frustrated at it and began to see it as my new muse. When my laptop charger broke a few days ago I thought I better back up my laptop as I realised I hadn’t done this in over a year :-o And yes, the USB cable was tightly entangled in the lump. Thought it would be a good opportunity to film it. I anticipated it would take ages to do so I sat on a cushion and a cup of tea… but it actually only took five minutes much to my artistic frustration! Although I did end up needing that one cable, I expect most of those cables are useless to me now. Can you relate?

Repairing your electronics!

Yesterday I blogged about ‘having’ to buy a new Mac charger. When a piece of clothing loses it’s life I can usually figure out what needs to be mended and how, but when it comes to electronics I have no idea! When looking at my broken charger there was no clue to as to what might be wrong. And even if I did have an understanding of circuit boards, getting into the screwless thing is a mission in itself (see ‘Right to repair’ ‘a series of proposals from European environment ministers to force manufacturers to make goods that last longer and are easier to mend’).

The Restart Project

The Restart Project

After my blog yesterday, my sisters and I discussed what could be done to prevent our electronics being shipped to illegal dumpsites in the developing world. My sister told me about Repair Cafe in Leeds and after I looked into it I’ve discovered there are 1,500 worldwide;

‘Repair Cafés are free meeting places and they’re all about repairing things (together). In the place where a Repair Café is located, you’ll find tools and materials to help you make any repairs you need. On clothes, furniture, electrical appliances, bicycles, crockery, appliances, toys, et cetera. You’ll also find expert volunteers, with repair skills in all kinds of fields.

Visitors bring their broken items from home. Together with the specialists they start making their repairs in the Repair Café. It’s an ongoing learning process. If you have nothing to repair, you can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. Or you can lend a hand with someone else’s repair job. You can also get inspired at the reading table – by leafing through books on repairs and DIY.’

I also follow The Restart Project on Instagram which has a similar set-up:

The Restart Project helps people learn how to repair their broken electronics, and rethink how they consume them in the first place.

We run regular Restart Parties where people teach each other how to repair their broken and slow devices – from tablets to toasters, from iPhones to headphones. We maintain a network of groups like ours - some use different names but we all host the same kind of events.

We call ours parties because they have a fun, ad-hoc spirit where all are welcome to meet, mingle, and share in the fun of repair.

This puts me to shame, he took his Mac charger and had it repaired (see previous post)!

This puts me to shame, he took his Mac charger and had it repaired (see previous post)!

Empowering people to fix their own stuff!

Despite loving electronics visually, I have no idea how anything works. A circuit board is a complete mystery. I remember getting monotonous headaches because I didn’t understand Electronics in year 7-9 (but oh! the soldering iron was a highlight!). What I particularly like about The Repair Cafe and The Restart Project is that they create a community where the expectation is that you will learn from each other (from their mission statement and reviews- I’ve never been!).

The Restart Project also runs sessions in schools!

The programme is designed to help students develop hard repair skills – such as disassembly, reassembly, and manual dexterity – at the same time as transferrable skills like teamwork and creative problem-solving.

If anyone has been to one of these events I would love to hear about your experience.

Will my 'first world problem' add to their devastating problem?

My fourth charger for my four year old Apple Mac arrived yesterday…

Photographer Kevin McElvaney, taken from  Guardian images . I have been give permission.  ‘Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly. But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.   Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s’ Text taken from  Guardian images.

Photographer Kevin McElvaney, taken from Guardian images. I have been give permission.

‘Discarders of electronic goods expect them to be recycled properly. But almost all such devices contain toxic chemicals which, even if they are recyclable, make it expensive to do so. As a result, illegal dumping has become a lucrative business.

Photographer Kevin McElvaney documents Agbogbloshie, a former wetland in Accra, Ghana, which is home to the world’s largest e-waste dumping site. Boys and young men smash devices to get to the metals, especially copper. Injuries, such as burns, untreated wounds, eye damage, lung and back problems, go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Most workers die from cancer in their 20s’ Text taken from Guardian images.

‘First world problem’

Old meets new.

Old meets new.

Yesterday, I received my fourth charger for my four year old Mac book, ordered directly from Apple. To be fair to them, my last charger was not Apple branded and only lasted four months before it ceased to light up. However, both Apple branded ones stopped working after a little more than a year, conveniently just out of the one year warranty. It was no surprise to see on the Mac website the charger gets a 1* star review (247 awful ones). The first died after it hissed and spluttered after a miniature explosion, and the second surreptitiously perished leaving no clue as to the cause of it’s departure from the ‘living’ world. And yes it was a costly inconvenience to me (£79) and I had to live without my laptop for 24 hours. Will the ‘inconvenience’ stop with me? As I look at my new bright white and firm life support, I’m wondering what the destiny will be of these weathered ‘dead’ cables?

‘Worldwide, discarded electronics account for an average 35 million tons of trash per year.Such a mass of discards has been compared to an equivalent disposal of 1,000 elephants every hour.’

-‘Digital Rubbish: A natural history of electronics Jennifer Gabrys

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Informative articles

60-90% of OUR electronic waste ends up on illegal dumpsites in the developing world. If you are interested in knowing where your electronic waste might end up have a read of these. I post articles on Twitter too.

Rotten eggs: e-waste from Europe poisons Ghana's food chain 24th April 2019

Where Do 50 Million Tonnes a Year of Toxic E-Waste Go? 27th September 2017

Our thirst for new gadgets has created a vast empire of electronic waste 10th February 2016

Feeling a bit down in the dumps about those statistics?

All the packaging. Set against synthetic looking grass. I have to remind myself that everything we have and consumer comes from the earth.

All the packaging. Set against synthetic looking grass. I have to remind myself that everything we have and consumer comes from the earth.

So I realise this and some of my art work around e-waste can leave people questioning ‘ If 60-90% of EU e-waste ends up on illegal dumpsites how can I ensure mine don’t?’ Yup, that is where I am at too! I certainly feel I’m very much entangled in the system of needing a brand new charger every time one breaks. I don’t deny I am a consumer shackled to Apple’s short life products, at the mercy of their products. But I don’t want my blog posts to be all doom and gloom, so I will be posting up good things that people and companies are doing to tackle e-waste whether it be recycling or fixing. I’d like these blog-posts to be an honest journey- I don’t have the answers… yet!

I’m here to learn, so any up-to-date information you may have please do email me! Thank you!

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