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Artist Steve McPherson's workspace. Photo: Steve McPherson

For our Deep Dive on plastics, Axios commissioned artist Steve McPherson to create a custom piece using plastics washed onto the coastline of England. McPherson transforms these discarded, forgotten plastic objects into vibrant, beautiful pieces — forcing the viewer to confront where these objects actually originated.

Why it matters: Plastic makes up more than 60% of ocean litter — millions of metric tons — and that amount is only increasing. Artists like McPherson are using their platform to address the complexity of the plastics problem and to urge people to examine their consumer habits.

Since he started picking up ocean plastic as a child, McPherson has amassed a shocking collection of objects: fragments of dentures, false finger nails, Lego heads, assorted doll limbs, plastic fruit swords, Scrabble pieces, computer keys, pencil sharpeners and ice cream spoons.

  • “The natural colors of the beach were confettied with these synthetic colors,” McPherson tells Axios.
  • Part of what drives McPherson’s art is how pervasive plastic is — from the paint in our houses to our clothing. “I don’t think people understand the depth of the problem and the depth of their own use of plastic,” he says. “We are literally saturated with this material.”

By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation projects. Meanwhile, marine creatures like seabirds are ingesting the debris.

  • Part of the hazard — and the appeal — of plastics is most of them can’t decompose completely, which is why they’ve been found in growing concentrations across the oceans. McPherson uses his art to confront this idea of plastic objects as a record for how humans live in the world right now.
  • “These little objects are conduits ... to the Earth’s memory,” he says.

Where it stands: Manufacturers, suppliers and governments all have a responsibility to address the plastic pollution problem, McPherson suggests. But he hopes his art encourages people to reconsider their consumerism.

  • He says some people who have viewed his art tell him years later that they’ve since changed their habits, buying fewer plastic goods or thinking twice before purchasing certain products. “We’re supposed to have power as consumers, aren’t we?”

Go deeper

Biden pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 52% by 2030

U.S. President Joe Biden seen in the Oval Office on April 15. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

The Biden administration is moving to address global warming by setting a new, economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Why it matters: The new, non-binding target, is about twice as ambitious as the previous U.S. target of a 26 to 28% cut by 2025, which was set during the Obama administration. White House officials described the goal as ambitious but achievable during a call with reporters Tuesday night.

Exclusive: Chauvin trial prosecution worked with strategic communications firm

People gather at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to celebrate the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on April 20, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

For most of the past year, a strategic communications firm with deep Washington ties has played an integral role for the prosecution in the State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin — operating without pay and so under-the-radar that most of its own staff had no idea.

The big picture: Finsbury Glover Hering — formerly known as the Glover Park Group — has been conducting media monitoring and analysis as part of legal team special prosecutor Neal Katyal's vision for a three-pronged "modern appeal/trial strategy."

World leaders brace for historic Trump Facebook ban decision

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The upcoming decision from Facebook’s independent Oversight Board on whether to uphold or reverse Facebook’s indefinite suspension of former President Trump’s profiles has policymakers on edge.

Why it matters: The decision will set a historic precedent for how the tech giant treats accounts of world leaders, and could be a litmus test for the board’s power.