Man clears beach of plastic trash and makes art from it

Contaminated coastlines are a common sight for Rob Arnold. As a volunteer at an organization committed to keeping the beaches in the English county of Cornwall clean, the 59-year-old is well aware of how much trash can wash up on our shores.

Yet even Rob was taken aback by what he saw while taking a stroll along the beach one Friday in May. "I am fairly used to it as I have been doing it for four years. But the way it was this time was a shock to me — it was desperate," said the Cornwall native.

Rob was visiting Tregantle Beach near Plymouth which was awash with swathes of plastic trash in every shape, color, and size imaginable.

"I really felt it had gone too far and it may be too late to clean it up, but I thought we may as well try. It was like the ocean had vomited it out and presented it to us. I felt it was our duty to clean it up."

Waste plastic in our oceans is one of the biggest problems we're currently facing. According to a UN study, 6.4 million tons of plastic trash is dumped into the world's oceans every year. Islands of plastic trash have even started to form in some places in the Pacific. Known as "nurdles," pieces of plastic that are smaller than two inches have found their way into the food chains of fish and marine birds.

Meanwhile, plastic waste pollution has grown so large that formations made of molten plastic, volcanic rocks, coral sediments, and sand are now classified as a type of stone called plastiglomerates.

Rob was prompted to comb the beaches after watching a film explaining how a species of albatross is being killed off from eating the plastic nurdles. Wanting to make a difference, the 59-year-old assembled a team of dedicated volunteers to clear the beach of any plastic trash — 35 bags were soon filled.

Simply clearing up the waste was not enough for Rob though. Once everything had been collected, he separated the plastic from the sand and any other trash before washing individual pieces and sorting them by size. To help him with this mammoth task, Rob built a sorting machine made of trash found on the beach and swimming pool equipment. After the first round of sorting, there were still 28 bags to go through.

He rummaged through these bags on the lookout for any particularly interesting items; his findings are now part of a museum exhibit called "The Plastic Age" which demonstrates the scale and absurdity of the world's plastic pollution problem.

His "treasure chest" of washed up ocean trash included caps used for securing studs on warship insulation boards. Trengantle Beach is close to a naval dockyard.

Rob also found lots of plastic toy soldiers ...

... and innumerable shotgun pellets.

Rob even has a vast amount of Lego on display. It's said that the pieces of Lego came from a container that was lost overboard and sank in the sea during a storm in 1997.

As well as affecting the southwest coast of England, these Lego pieces have been found along shorelines in Ireland, Texas, and Australia. Rob has picked up 240 of these small flippers alone.

Rob hopes that the exhibition will raise awareness and get people to think about plastic waste differently. Though it's a never-ending task to keep the world free of plastic, Rob is continuing his good work and remains optimistic, "You could be defeatist as year-on-year it's getting worse. But cleaning it up puts me in a positive frame of mind."

Keep up the good work, Rob!


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