Passion for Plastics

We sat down with Shane Smith to chat to him about his passion for plastic pollution and how it has motivated him to create art and volunteer with Keep Top End Coasts Healthy. 

Shane has been a passionate and dedicated volunteer for three years, making a significant contribution to keeping our Top End coasts healthy. He’s a sparky, recreational pilot, yogi, ocean lover and now, an environmental artist. 

Moving to the Northern Territory 10 years ago, Shane fell in love with the wet season’s storms and the life it brings. Being a sparky in the NT means Shane has travelled to much of the amazing remote and unspoilt Territory coastline. He has seen first hand how lucky we are and what is at risk if we fail to act now and to protect our coasts in the face of growing threats.

The Plastic Age with Shane Smith

KTECH: This sculpture is quite fascinating… what inspired you create this artwork?

SHANE: I was inspired by John Dahlson and the documentary A Plastic Paradise. I wanted to make a sculpture that represented the differences I have seen in my lifetime. As a kid, I’d saw only natural matter on the beach, now we see this... The world’s economy is built on plastic and I believe consumers need to be better educated about its impacts so they stop buying it. 

KTECH: How did you make it and how long did it take?

SHANE: I collected most of what you see here from Darwins’ Nightcliff beach over a few years. I’d pick up plastic every time and bring it home in my pockets, throwing the big things like bottles and general rubbish in the bin. If you look closely, you can see I have separated the plastic waste into sections.  One area is all from overseas with labels in Indonesian, French and Indian, amongst others. Another is medical or kitchen waste. I estimate about 50% is of local origins, and the rest washed in from elsewhere. 

KTECH: You must have a message to send to the people through this piece?

SHANE: It troubles me to think that Australia has over 40,000kms of coastline and I can fill half this fish tank from just a couple of hundred metres. I hope this artwork inspires others to think more about the end results of what they buy day-to-day.  We need to ask ourselves “do we really need it, and where will it end up once I am finished with it”? 

"We are all responsible for our waste and we all play a part to keep our planet, waterways, and Top End coasts healthy". 

KTECH: What worries you the most about the health of our oceans?

SHANE: I’m most concerned about plastic pollution and the impact it has on the health of our coasts and oceans.  I fear that my generation was the last to see the ocean and the beaches clean. The residue of today’s plastic pollution is going to be around for thousands of years. 

I am also worried about the wildlife in our changing world. I enjoy protecting all living things. I’ve rescued seabirds with fish hooks stuck in their mouths, or that are tangled in wires. I see it a lot up here. I can’t walk past an animal that is in trouble. I’ll always work to protect them and stand up for creatures that don’t have a voice.  

"Overall, extreme measures need to be taken to stop the disposal mindset and lifestyle. The world needs to unite against this issue". 

KTECH: You’ve been volunteering your time with the Top End Coasts team, what inspires you to be part of it?

SHANE: I like working with keep Top End Coasts Healthy because, as a community, we are aiming to protect what we’ve got here in the NT. I think future generations will look at us and wonder why we did this damage to the earth. Politicians could change it overnight if they wanted. So I am passionate about working for an organisation that is trying to hold the powers that be accountable. I wish I got pushed towards marine biology in school, to be a marine scientist. It would have been a dream to work in the field and protect these creatures for a living. 

"Volunteering with Keep Top End Coasts Healthy allows me to help out in some way".

KTECH: What do you think are some positives that come from volunteering?

It’s fun to join an organised group, and the people in the Top End are really proactive. You meet people here that you wouldn’t usually meet and sometimes you define a friendship with like-minded people.

It takes up a lot of my life, thinking about what I would do if the world were perfect. It impacts the way I interact with the world. I feel like a minority a lot of the time when talking to friends who might not share my passion for protecting the environment. But when I am volunteering at an event, I feel like I am a part of a community, working to achieve a common goal, and I feel relaxed in that environment. 

KTECH: If people would like to see your piece ‘The Plastic Age’ where can they find it?

SHANE: For now, ‘The Plastic Age’ is displayed at the Environment Centre NT at 98 Woods St, and can be viewed during business hours.

KTECH: Well Shane, we really appreciate the time you give and the passion you share with the environment and Territory community. The world is a better place with you in it!

You can see Shane's sculpture at the Environment Centre NT, 3/ 98 Woods Street, Darwin City NT 0800.