This South African artist is using plastic waste to create impressive, highly textured portraits in his studio in Booysens, Johannesburg.

Source: africanews/Youtube

Mbongeni Buthelezi uses plastic litter that he collects from local dumps and city streets, “Animals are dying, fish in the ocean are dying — because of this material and because of us as human beings,” Buthelezi said. “It is us that need to take responsibility.”

The 56-year-old activist grew up in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He quickly discovered that he was creative and talented in art and began sculpting clay figurines of the livestock that he would see around his village.

“I grew up with my father’s animals, the cattle were an important part of my life,” Buthelezi said.

However, he soon realized how common plastic litter was around his village, and he saw cows dying because they had eaten plastic. South Africa has a big plastic pollution problem, with 107,000 metric tons of plastic waste from the country ending up in the ocean. A study even found that the country was one of the top 20 contributors to marine plastic pollution.

Buthelezi began working with plastic because he could not afford other mediums. When he was 22 years old, and the country was still under apartheid, he took two blankets and very little money and enrolled full-time at a community arts school. The political climate of South Africa at the time didn’t leave very much opportunity for him, as a young black man, to flourish in the art community.

Next to his studio during his time at the college was a dumping site.

“I saw all of these brilliant colors, these materials … and I said to myself, what can I do to make sense of these plastics that are everywhere?”

He began to use plastic litter to paint and developed a unique technique of using an electric heat gun to melt the plastic and apply it to a recycled canvas. Buthelezi says that using a heat gun is much better for the environment as opposed to flames because it does not release noxious fumes into the atmosphere.

To this day, he still creates art by melting plastic, and he has begun to educate people on global plastic waste.

“The world we live in today can offer us everything we need to make art without manufacturing more,” he said.

Buthelezi has held exhibitions, participated in festivals, led workshops, and taken up artist residencies in countries including Germany, the USA, Barbados, Egypt, Australia, and Saudi Arabia, according to CNN.

Globally, we produce 300 million tons of plastic every year, 78 percent of which is NOT reclaimed or recycled. Around  8.8 million tons of plastic get dumped into the oceans every year! 700 marine animals are faced with extinction due to the threat that plastic poses to them in the form of entanglement, pollution, and ingestion. 50 percent of sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs. By 2050, 99 percent of all seabird species will have ingested plastic waste. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, and if things go on business as usual, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

Read more about how companies like Facebook, Tupperware, Google, Dove,  Budweiser, Carlsberg, and FIJI Water are working towards reducing plastic pollution. Places around the world like Tel Aviv, California, Baltimore, Scotland, and many more are banning various single-use plastics, and others are coming up with creative ways to recycle and use plastic waste.

There are products you may be using or habits you may have that contribute to plastic pollution. Learn more about how the use of Teabags, Cotton Swabs, Laundry, Contact Lenses, Glitter, and Sheet Masks pollute our oceans so you can make more informed decisions going forward. There are also numerous simple actions and switches that can help cut plastic out of our lives including, making your own cosmetics, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, household cleaners, using mason jars, reusable bags/bottles/straws, and avoiding microbeads!

To learn more about the impact of plastic waste, please read the articles below: 

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