Bottles, bottle caps, straws, lighters, beach toys, dental floss bags and picks. All of these items have one thing in common: pieces of plastic washed up on Great Lakes beaches.
Working with the SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium inside Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills, Royal Oak artist Hannah Tizedes has spent over a year collecting trash from the Great Lakes to create a plastic mosaic recycled six feet long.
The piece is now on display as part of the newly renovated Conservation Cove exhibit, which showcases different ways to help protect Michigan’s natural habitats.
Tizedes, 27, spent 30 hours over ten days assembling 917 pieces of plastic collected from Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior to create his mosaic, “The Great Lakes”.
“This mosaic is a celebration of Michigan’s Great Lakes and a reminder of the effects our daily activities can have on them,” Tizedes said. “We’ve all heard about the plastic pollution in our oceans, but not enough about the plastic ending up right here in our Great Lakes.”
Tizedes’ parents live near Lake Erie, where she noticed an increase in trash buildup. In 2019, she started taking beach cleanup seriously and tries to go to the various Great Lakes every week to pick up plastic trash washed up on the shore.
Its collection contains approximately 50,000 pieces of recovered plastic. Each colored piece is cleaned and sorted into jars and bins.
A 2017 Michigan State University graduate with a BA in Creative Advertising and Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Tizedes has always been aware of plastic use and recycling methods.
Over the past few years, Tizedes has noticed an increase in stranded plastic with a theory that it is mainly carried through sewers. What is washed ashore also changes with the seasons.
“It is estimated that approximately 22 million pounds of plastic pollution ends up in the Great Lakes each year,” said Lauren Grauer, chief marine biologist at SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium. “It typically enters the Great Lakes through sewage systems, illegal landfills, storm drains, and bedbugs.”
Tizedes strongly encourages the reduction and reuse of plastic as well as the practice of smart recycling habits.
“When you throw things away, make sure the bags are tied properly so they don’t overflow and end up in the drain,” she said. “Don’t flush anything down the toilet. I find that a lot of tampon applicators get flushed down the toilet and that’s the main way they end up in lakes.
A rule of thumb that Tizedes adheres to is not to recycle anything smaller than a tennis ball. Small items — floss picks or bottle caps — probably don’t end up in recycling facilities or are too small for machines to pick up.
“A lot of people ‘wishcycle’ at the end of the day,” she says. “Be smart about recycling and check with your city or town what they accept.”
From home, simple steps can be taken to reduce everyday plastic: fill a reusable water bottle, use reusable grocery bags, switch from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo teeth or use a bar of soap delivered in a cardboard packaging.
“Start educating yourself about recycling and the little ways to trade in your home that can have an impact,” she said. “I think there’s a lack of education about plastic and what can and can’t be recycled. That’s why I’m doing this, to raise awareness.
In addition to Conservation Cove, SEA LIFE Aquarium has an ongoing conservation program, SEA LIFE Trust, which works globally to protect oceans and marine life.
One of their main goals is to advocate for the need for plastic-free waters and the overexploitation of marine life.
For more information on visiting the SEA LIFE Aquarium, visit sealife.com/michigan. To learn more about Tizedes’ work, visit instagram.com/thetrashycollection.