Straw Ban Inspires Art

Artist James Peterson puts a finishing touch on “Straws,” an art installation commemorating the City of Malibu’s historic move to ban the single use of plastic straws, stirrers and cutlery.

While one man’s trash is another man’s treasure… one man’s treasure made of trash will be kept out of our ocean’s waters. That’s just one take on a beautiful new art installation—”Straws,” by James Paterson—on view at the Malibu Country Mart made of trash. Straws—a whopping 12,000 of them, all recovered from our local beaches—are the medium for the colorful art structure. It stands 15 feet tall and can be viewed from the shopping area’s lawn or even underneath it to get a closer perspective. The unveiling of this unique art piece coincided with the first day—June 1—of the City of Malibu’s ban on single use plastic straws, utensils and stirrers.

The idea to bring more attention to the straw ban creatively was dreamed up by Now Art. Now Art is a women-run public arts agency that produces, facilitates and orchestrates public art projects. Board member and Malibu resident Kinga Phillips initiated the idea, according to Now Art creative director Carmen Zella.

“It’s really important for us to match art with political awareness about the environment and a whole host of issues,” Zella explained. “There’s an unbelievable amount of straws that are littering our beaches. We’re in support of Malibu being so progressive an initiating this ban. Art helps to amplify these issues.” 

With the help of Surfrider and Shark Allies volunteers who collected the used straws at beach cleanups, installation artist and environmental activist Peterson made the spectacularly colorful project with the reclaimed material. While dreaming up “Straws,” as the piece is known, Peterson said he thought about “the puzzle of what can we do that’s dynamic and inspire people to be involved in this ban. 

“I wanted to make something beautiful that captivated people’s attention,” the artist said. “This is a huge problem in our community. I’m hoping people will question their own habits and usage, see it as an opportunity to connect the community around an art piece and to do something—have a voice.” Peterson continued, “People often say plastics are the problem, but people are the problem. It’s up to us to transform our disposable mindset. It’s not about the material being evil.”

Supporters of the plastic straw ban say eliminating them is one way to combat the growing pollution problem in our oceans. Yearly, a colossal 1.4 billion tons of trash end up in the ocean. Much of this waste is plastic that contributes to the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, or what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s a swirling mass of trash so huge it has grown to four times the size of Texas. The ocean gyre, visible from space, is located between Hawaii and California. The gyre attracts trash from all over the world through currents that suck it into a swirling vortex of mostly plastic that may never decompose.

California State Senator Henry Stern was on hand for the unveiling and to cut a ribbon made of used straws. 

“Five hundred million straws are thrown away every day in the United States,” Stern told the crowd. “We’ve got more straws than people going into the trash and more plastic in the ocean than fish. I’m hoping this wakes people up and gives us room to get that single use plastic straw ban through the state of California. There’s a bill pending [AB 1884] and Malibu took the lead. How one enlightened little city goes, so goes the whole state, then the nation, then the world. We’re the fifth-largest economy in the whole world and we can have an amazing experience in a restaurant and not kill our sea, oceans and everything that lives in it and the economy can still boom.”

The City of Malibu’s Environmental Sustainability Director Craig George also offered praise.

“This artwork supports our efforts to ban straws in the City of Malibu and all other forms of plastic that we can,” George said. “I think it’s gorgeous. Everybody should come look at it.”

“Straws” will only be on view in Malibu until June 14. Other coastal cities including Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach have expressed interest in displaying it.