‘Plastic Air’ is an Interactive Experience Showing Just How Prevalent Airborne Microplastics Are

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We’re sure you’re aware, but plastic pollution is out of control.

It’s in our oceans and waterways, it’s stuffed up sea turtles’ noses, and it’s definitely sitting around in landfills across the globe waiting for the next 500 or so years to decompose. And that’s if it really does at all—unless we figure out what Ted Williams saw in cryogenics, we’ll all be dead if and when the first pieces of human-made polymers disintegrate.

But what you might not know is that it’s also in the air that we breathe. You were already eating and drinking it—and, yes, pooping it, too—but now researchers have found that the further plasticization of the planet is only speeding up. Billions of pounds of discarded plastics that land in the ocean and, well, everywhere else, are now breaking down into microscopic pieces, getting tossed around in the air because of cars on the roads and winds traveling over our waterways and farms.

To raise awareness of this issue, Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi and her team (including members Talia Cotton and Phillip Cox) have created "Plastic Air," an interactive experience that shows viewers just how common, everyday items break down and travel through the air that they breathe unbeknownst to them.

The web-based project was created alongside Google Arts & Culture and released for today’s Earth Day celebrations. The ask was to imagine something visually that would speak to the rising impact plastic pollution has on our health and the planet. After talking with many experts on microplastics, Lupi and her data-humanism-inspired work (humanizing facts and figures to frame an issue ) created a deeply captivating and approachable project worth sharing with your pals.

“‘Plastic Air’ allows viewers to imagine these particles as objects and see what we usually don’t see,” said Pentagram of the project. “The experience consists of a speculative “window” onto a data-driven approximation of plastic particles that exist all around us, but remain hidden to the naked eye. Users can drop identifiable objects like housewares and apparel to “pollute” the sky, and then see the items break down into the air. They can also adjust factors like location (cities vs. rural areas) and weather conditions like wind, rain, and snow to see how these affect dispersal patterns.”

Once you kickstart the interactive experience, you can see how some of the seemingly mundane things you do have dire consequences on your environment, from drinking a cup of coffee and redecorating your house to having a baby or even eating a snack. Once you do this, those objects break down into tiny pieces of plastic that float American Beauty-style around your window. The airborne microplastics almost resemble confetti, and the vibrant colors and shapes give it a charming sensibility—think of it as a party, but like, you know, a shitty pollution party where you can analyze the chemical composition of household items and how far they’ve potentially traveled.

Plastic pollution isn’t going away any time soon, and it's very unlikely brands will stop using it overnight. But “Plastic Air” is nice, steady reminder that we really should be using a lot less of the stuff, and the more designers that try to utilize alternative substrates to discourage the use of single-use plastics is always a good thing.

Anywho, happy Earth Day. Enjoy your confetti.