By Elizabeth Glazner
Like all museums, this one is sorted into collections based on similarities. There is the plastic lighter collection, the sunglass collection, the cigarette butt collection. There's the baby binkie collection of plastic formula bottles and plastic pacifiers and toys; the personal hygiene collection of lots and lots of lipstick and lip balms, plastic tampon holders, plastic dental floss sticks, sunscreen containers and toothbrushes made of plastic, and even a tube of toothpaste that floated to a local beach all the way from Cuba.
Welcome to the Museum of Litter. It's a real organization, though it comes to the world virtually via its website, social media accounts and an Etsy store. It's a repository of things people lose and throw away, but mostly, it's crap people leave behind them at the beach, on the sidewalk, in National Parks and right in front of you.
These things are sent to the museum from all over, then sorted and eventually synthesized by artists into mixed media works suitable for hanging, or sculptures, like a shroud made of a foam material that was actually a found object—the bumper of someone's boat—baked and mangled by the elements.
Curator Sharon Huff of Hollywood, Florida, started collecting these artifacts of human indifference in 2007 with the idea that she could turn them into pieces of art, then showcase them in a way that is humorous and kind that might also help prevent the litter in the first place.
"When we pick up litter, we document it with photos, blog commentary, and tweets, rather than just throwing it away, so it's not 'out of sight, out of mind,'" Huff writes on her website. "We blog, tweet, give talks, create art upcycled from litter, do art shows and hold community events to promote awareness of the importance of zero litter."
Cigarette butts are the No. 1 form of litter on the planet, Huff points out, and they are the medium most often used in the artists' work. They make angels and mermaids out of butts, with bottle cap heads and garments of Styrofoam. There's a piece entitled "Fork You," which is a plastic fork with its tines bent so that it looks like someone is giving the finger, and another entitled "Don't Let Barnacles Grow On Your Sole," of an aged flip flop with real barnacles stuck to it, a signifier that it had been in the ocean as part of an ecosystem for a very long time before being washed up on the beach as trash.
The Museum of Litter hosts park and beach cleanups to collect refuse, and even provides a polite and humorous downloadable business card to hand to litterers caught in the act. But the core of its mission is prevention. "We're kind of like Greenpeace meets the Dalai Lama and George Carlin," Huff likes to say. The museum's goal: to go out of business because there is no more litter to display.
Elizabeth Glazner is the editorial director.