Trashed Data

Trashed Data

Trina Wetzel
Course: Data Visualization with Lucy HG Solomon
Topic: Beach Pollution

            For my final project, I decided to focus on the arising issue of ocean pollution. For most of my life I have always lived by the beach and enjoyed the sandy summer days but never paid close attention to the growing problem that takes place every time someone neglects their ability to dispose of their trash. According to Marcus Eriksen, there are “at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons that are currently floating at sea” ( Eriksen, 7). This is a major issue that goes unnoticed by the majority of the public because it is out of sight, therefore it is out of mind. I decided to be more conscientious of my surroundings and the actions I make that involve sustainability and environmental cleansing/material reduction. I spent three hours at the Oceanside beach (Pacific Street Linear Park, Oceanside —> Oceanside HarborLot 12) with a pair of rubber gloves and a trash bag. The trip totaled out to be three miles, one and a half miles walking to my destination, and one and a half miles walking back to my starting point. Along the way, I picked up hundreds of pieces of trash which I stumbled upon during my journey. I also photographed most of the trash I picked up in the location in which I found them. Unfortunately, my phone died along the way, but I managed to take a decent amount of photos.

 When I was finished collecting the trash (or data), I took it home with me to be categorized. I carefully recorded the different types of trash I had collected into these categories: cigarettes, plastic, paper, glass, metal, fabric, and styrofoam. I counted one hundred and three cigarettes, one hundred and forty-two pieces of plastic, sixty -three pieces of paper, four metal pieces, four glass pieces, seven styrofoam, pieces and twelve fabric pieces — in total, that equals 335 pieces of trash. I was amazed by how many cigarettes butts I came across. In Brazil, a study was done to see what item was the biggest pollutant in Rio De Janeiro; their results showed that paper was the most abundant item, and cigarette butts accounted for 87% of the total amount of paper items (Oigman-Pszcol, 1). Relative to the data I collected, cigarettes accounted for around 63% of the amount of paper items, which is a 24% difference. Even though there is a big difference between the two data sets, they are still similar in the sense that cigarette butts are still the main source of paper pollutants found on both records.

`Collecting the data really put into perspective the damage that is caused when something like a small capri sun wrapper accidentally gets blow away by the wind. The thing is, it’s not the only one. I collected over 10 capri sun wrappers, within a small 1.5 mile distance and I cannot imagine how many there are around the world. This project has really opened my eyes to see the impact that a small piece of trash can cause, and I hope that my visual representation of it portrays the same message to the viewer.

            Once I categorized and recorded all of the trash, I placed them all in separate jars to show the amount of each category of trash collected. Since the jars are filled with the actual data, the observers can see the different types of items that are found under each category. For example, in the plastic jars you will find plastic water bottle caps, plastic strings, bread clips, candy wrappers, plastic cups, bags, straws etc.—these would be considered as the meta data. Click here to view the collage of plastic images:

            Overall, my goal for this project was to bring awareness to both myself and the observer. I thought it would be effective to use the trash that I had found at the beach, rather than finding random trash at home. Even though it would have been easier and cleaner to “make trash,” the true depiction of the pollution that is found along the coast is more impactful because it is not just a representation of data, it is the data. To view the graphics click here:

Eriksen, Marcus, et al. “Plastic Pollution in the World’sOceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloatat Sea.” PLoS ONE, vol. 9, no. 12, Dec. 2014, pp. 1–15. EBSCOhost,doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111913.

Oigman-Pszczol, Simone Siag, and Joel Christopher Creed.“Quantification and Classification of Marine Litter on Beaches along Armação Dos Búzios, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.” Journal of Coastal Research, vol. 23, no. 2,Mar. 2007, pp. 421–428. EBSCOhost,