Anyone wishing to wash down that Christmas consumerist spirit with a well-earned guilty conscience should pay a visit to Hamburg. A new exhibition in the port city devotes itself to the frightening rate at which an ever-growing mountain of plastic garbage is irreversibly polluting the oceans of our planet, their wildlife and ourselves.
An entire hall in Hamburg's Museum for the Arts is stacked high with a gigantic mound of plastic bottles, bags, flip flops, crates and bits of synthetic rope to name but a few items. A plastic bath duck vies with a red plastic rowing boat which sits stranded on top of the heap. The garbage was collected on beaches in Hawaii and on the German North Sea holiday island of Sylt. It is equivalent to the amount humans throw into the oceans every 10 to 15 seconds.
"Last stop the sea? The plastic garbage project" goes on to explain what the sea does to the non-bio degradable substance of plastic: it is eventually ground down by wave motion into tiny indestructible particles nicknamed "Mermaids' Tears". These enter both the food chain and us.
The exhibition's message will be nothing new to oceanographers who have been warning about plastic for decades. But it appears to be making an impression on landlubbers. "Last stop the sea" kicked off in Switzerland where it was visited by 400 classes of schoolchildren. After Germany, it will go to Finland, Denmark and France. One of its most abiding images is of a dead Albatross, which starved to death after gorging on plastic.