Single-use plastics have a new life in the “Plastic Bag Store”

America has a plastic problem.

In 2018, the most recent year followed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans have consumed more than 35.7 million tons of plastic. This represents over 70 million pounds of plastic waste generated. Seventy-five percent of this waste ended up in landfills, while the remaining 25% was recycled or destroyed.

Despite advances in technology and increasing resources, plastic is not easily recyclable. According to a NPR survey, companies have no incentive to recycle because it is cheaper and more convenient to produce new plastic than to melt it down and recycle it.

Because companies are unwilling to recycle, most plastic waste is single-use. A package or container is used once and ends up in a landfill indefinitely.

The artist Robin Frohardt tackles single-use plastic in his own way. Frohardt is the creator of “The Plastic Bag Store,” a traveling public art installation made from plastic waste she collected in New York City.

According to his website, The Plastic Bag Store is “a tragicomic ode to the eternity of plastic”. He uses humor to explore the themes of consumption and addiction to single-use plastics.

After touring New York, Los Angeles and Adelaide, Australia, the exhibition made its fourth stop in Chicago.

At first glance, The Plastic Bag Store looks like any other grocery store. There are stacks of produce, shelves of cereal, a selection of baked goods, and crates of frozen food.

Customers can look, they can touch, but it is not recommended that they taste. None of the products are edible as they are made from 100% plastic.

Michelle Yard, director of The Plastic Bag store, said Frohardt had been working on the exhibit for years, collecting plastic waste and turning it into plastic food items.

“Every time we go to a new city [Frohardt] tries to incorporate local products from the town we’re in,” Yard said.

In Chicago, that meant spoofing Affy Tapples with “Awful Apples” and making plastic cases of Polish kielbasa.

The exhibit was brought to Chicago as the star attraction of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festivalattracting puppet fans.

“I’m a puppeteer and I’m a puppet specialist,” said Ana Diaz Varriga. “I [first] I came to the festival two years ago and am an avid spectator of puppets.

Diaz Varriga said his favorite part of the exhibit was the packaging design.

“They really put all the details on it,” she said.

Familiar brands like Marlboro, Arizona Iced Tea, and Ben & Jerry’s cigarettes became “Marlbags cigarettes,” “Plastizona Iced Tea,” and “Bag & Jerry’s.”

The plastic bag store is an engaging visual experience that doubles as a call to action.

The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival hung posters urging Plastic Bag Store customers to take a stand against plastic waste. Visitors could scan QR codes linking to environmental resources and learning opportunities.

Kardamin Politzer, an aspiring environmental biologist, was drawn to The Plastic Bag Store because of its environmental message.

“I thought ‘Wow, I want to visit this because it’s totally in my interest,'” Politzer said.

In addition to visiting “The Plastic Bag Store,” customers can purchase tickets to watch an immersive puppet movie that continues his vision.

The Plastic Bag Store will continue its tour in Austin, Texas in April.

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