Alarmed by all the plastic packaging you see when you go shopping? You’re not alone. An interactive art exhibit called The Plastic Bag Store showcases what an entire grocery store may look like if everything—including the food itself—was made of plastic.
The exhibit first opened in New York City in 2020, intended originally to coincide with the start of New York State’s bag ban in March of that year (it was delayed to October due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic). The store is the work of Robin Frohardt, a theater and film director. Frohardt says that the exhibit is a reflection of her own experiences trying to shop among plastic.
“I got the idea many years ago after watching someone bag and double-bag and triple-bag my groceries,” Frohardt told the AP. “I just was sort of struck by how much packaging is involved in our everyday lives. And it just seemed so absurd. I just thought, ‘Maybe I could make a project that’s even more absurd.’”
The resulting store is filled to the brim with food modeled after plastic products, all made from plastic salvaged from the street or garbage bins, with puns on popular brand names like “Bagorade,” “Lake O Bags,” and “Yucky Shards.” The production was originally supposed to include a live puppet show when it opened in March 2020, but thanks to the pandemic, that morphed into a 45-minute video that is shown alongside the exhibit.
The statistics on global plastic use are depressing, no matter how you slice it. Plastic use skyrocketed more than 200 times between 1950 and 2015, while recycling rates are scarily low. And that’s not slowing down any time soon: global plastic use and waste is set to triple by 2060. Residents of wealthy countries are some of the worst offenders; while the U.S. has only 4% of the world’s population, some research has shown that it produces 17% of global plastic waste.
To try and cut down on consumer plastic waste, multiple U.S. states have taken action to ban the availability of plastic products. At least ten states and several territories currently have plastic bag bans on the books, while multiple cities and states have also banned single-use plastic straws.
But bans on consumer products can only go so far. An investigation from New York Focus published in October found that across New York City, businesses of all sizes continue to give out plastic bags, with little fear of punishment, two years after the ban went into effect. One study found that banning single-use plastic bags only leads to an increase in consumers buying heavy duty plastic trash bags to use for trash can liners. Meanwhile, Florida and Arizona have preemptively banned municipalities from restricting plastic bag use.
Some experts have suggested that to truly tackle our plastic addiction, legislators should turn to the source: plastic manufacturers. Research has found that just 100 of the world’s largest companies produce 90% of the world’s plastic.
The Plastic Bag Store is currently on display in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Click through the slides above to see some of what’s at the store.