Part of the Science Art and Trash (sciartrash) project is to confront the multi-faceted denial regarding garbage. The project started in 2017 with neighbors picking up litter and documenting what is collected using the Litterati app. The data collected then was presented to the community as a mini traveling exhibit across town in 2019 at a dozen local businesses that hosted it. Because of the pandemic, the exhibit moved online to social media. With these exhibits, the gathering, classifying and analyzing the collected data exposes the connection of local pollution to the behavior and habits involved right here in Forest Park, extending from where the pollution originates to where it ends up.

Our local community does not benefit from the profits behind polluting products or suffer most of their consequences. The polluting materials we use are paid for mostly by tax-funded subsidies to the fossil fuels industry which are gifted to them in this manner. The consequences of these materials do not end at the garbage bin either. They pollute the air from countries abroad and from the poor neighborhoods here where plastic manufacturing and reprocessing occurs. They pollute water tables under landfills, pollute waterways as trash falls into sewer systems, and regrettably so much more.

Yet pollution is presented to us consumers as containers of delicious food and drink. The perception of harmlessness is further reinforced by friends and families enjoying those in social media, the ongoing harm invisible in plain sight. Well intentioned artists may even expand this perception by utilizing plastic garbage to make artworks, thus inadvertently feeding the idea that something meaningful can always be done with the trash. A tiny percentage of the pollution is also used to make benches and construction materials with names that include the prefix “eco”, also feeding this misguided impression. All the while those materials end up in landfills if not in open land or bodies of water, sooner or later.

It is only natural that we want to believe that we can compensate for or fix things after the fact, that the harm is not that extreme, that what is happening away from us does not reach us, that we are not responsible, or that our habits are insignificant. But none of these are true. Millions of small bad habits at individual, institutional and business levels add to our dependence on systems that profit from invisible harm, and harm that we have learned to ignore does still cause massive harm.

The amount of polluting trash we channel through our individual and collective habits alongside those from other towns, is exorbitant. Opening our senses and intellect to this reality requires both an experiential shift and learning what data can show and how data works. This is then not only an intellectual experience but an aesthetic one: aesthetics depend on managing attention and acting accordingly with behaviors that manifest context.

Street litter is like the tip of an iceberg and a very big tip at that, its solid bulk being in our trash bins. The amount of trash that ends up in our streets is enormous, yet it is quickly hidden into bins by residents and village staff. Using the app and recording the trash as well as picking it up allows us to peek into the immensity of the problem and clear mindedly face reality.

We urgently need to change our habits and behaviors at a massive scale to stop the channeling of harm through our communities. You can help steer this Titanic of a boat by collecting data and providing evidence to yourself, to the people around you, and to the global community in order to change.

If you (the adult reading this) haven’t yet, start using your mobile device for good when you pickup around your residence or during walks (most if not all residents pickup already, and have been for decades!!). Your mobile device can be much more than a phone. Download the Litterati app and start, not only collecting, but surveying litter around you. Realize you are not alone. Within the app you can join seasonal surveys from @sciartrash and/or create your own and invite friends. What you collect and classify counts towards all the surveys local and global you wish to join simultaneously. Connect to the Science Art and Trash project in social media -Facebook- or email sciartrash at Gmail dot com for monthly alerts. Our current survey is called Spring Survey Forest Park. You can also find it with code #SSFP2022 within the app. Let us walk virtually together to steer our community towards good.

Julieta Aguilera

Forest Park
Aguilera has a PhD in Interactive Arts and has worked at the Adler Planetarium’s Space Visualization Laboratory.