In 2018 we were approached by Hull University with the task of raising awareness around the issue of plastic waste, and in particular single use plastics finding their way into the ocean.
We devised a multi-faceted approach which would combine public engagement activities and high impact messaging and that would result in a major installation to be unveiled at the 2018 British Science Festival opening.
Stage one involved the design of an art piece that would engage with the public as well as national media. The 15ft high turtle that was to become known as Tilly was planned and a two week build time scale was scheduled, but the build itself would not take place for almost four months. In that time we set ourselves the task of collecting at least 10,000 pieces of plastic waste through a series of public engagement stunts, centred around festivals and the University itself.
The initial public launch of the idea, and the first appearance of the #myplasticpledge messaging was at the Humber Business Day, held inside Bridlington Spa. In what was traditionally a place for corporate exhibition stands and roller banners, we brought the outside in and built a beach in the centre of the exhibition space. Hand built wooden beach huts, real plants and rocks, an ice-cream cart and deck chairs sat upon almost three tons of sand. The indoor beach certainly caught people’s imagination and kick started the campaign in style.
Our second installation was at Hull’s most popular music festival, The Humber Street Sesh. In order to engage with and capture the imagination of more than 20,000 festival goers we took the original stand even further, converting a huge marquee into an indoor beach complete with a bar, stage, eco face painting and plenty of seating. The area was created to allow visitors a relatively tranquil break from the festival, and to distribute branded ‘keep cups’ that were handed to visitors in exchange for their plastic waste. Our team created a huge, 20ft high replica plastic cup to collect the plastic waste in (as well as 6 smaller 5ft versions) and our journey to 10,000 pieces of plastic waste had begun.
As our storage facility began to fill with plastic waste the cleaning and sterilisation process began. We quickly passed the half way stage, cleaning more than 5,000 plastic bottles, plastic cups and plastic containers within the first three weeks and we just kept going. In the end we smashed our target and ended up with more than 15,000 pieces of plastic waste, cleaned, sterilised and ready to build with.
With the British Science Festival just two weeks away our build team set to work on the huge sculpture and water filled base. The team worked around the clock to build the framework, add the plastic waste cladding and install the structure on the Hull University grounds. After four months, hundreds of hours of planning and project management and more than 150 hours on the final build alone, Tilly was born
The structure remained in place for more than three months and has enjoyed national media coverage since. So far the project has been viewed more than 32 million times and images of Tilly continue to be utilised in order to keep the important conversation around plastic waste alive.