An estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic waste, collected from more than 100 beach-picks in one small area of a beach in East Lothian, have been incorporated into a new mural, installed at North Berwick yesterday.  

From far off, the images appear painted, and only when the viewer gets close can the items be identified.

But the items used are from our daily existence, and a testimony to our throwaway culture. 

These plastic pieces, however, were half the entire load Elizabeth Vischer collected from a near-450-square yards stretch of Longniddry Bents, over the course of her picks.  

The artwork was the idea of Jerba Campervans and Caledonian Horticulture, which regularly organises beach cleans across Scotland under the name The Scottish Coastal Clean Up.  

Kate Miller, of Caledonian Horticulture, said: “We started The Scottish Coastal Clean Up initiative in 2021 and through our beach cleaning work, we became aware of Elizabeth and the monumental task she had taken on. The mural seemed like the ideal use of the staggering 27,000 pieces of plastic gathered off the East Lothian coastline and really drives home the issue of marine plastic.”  

The Herald: A section of the completed mural

A section from Julie Barnes's giant mural

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In partnership with North Berwick Harbour Trust, the firms commissioned East Lothian artist Julie Barnes to create the 26ft-long mural, which is believed to be the biggest of its kind in the UK. 

Ms Miller added: “From a distance it appears to depict a colourful beach scene, but as you get closer and the details become clearer, you can make out the sheer scale of everyday items that have sadly ended up in our seas.

“We want the artwork to make people stop and think about how these items ended up in our seas and on our beaches, and think about what they can do to help stop that happening.” 

Ms Barnes said, when she began work with the collection, she felt “horrified and astonished by the amount of plastic washed up”.

She added: “Much of the plastic was no longer a recognisable object, already worn down by years at sea, but it doesn’t ever disappear. It gets smaller and smaller and kills even more of our sea creatures, who feed upon it. 

“Each piece of plastic tells the story of today’s culture and its obsession with convenience, despite the shocking consequences. Like all my work, I hope it will inspire viewers to stop, think and make a conscious effort to help preserve our planet.” 

The mural, which is installed on the wall of North Berwick harbour, is accompanied by a photographic exhibition inside the Scottish Seabird Centre of Elizabeth Vischer’s images of her plastic collection.

The Herald:

Some of Elizabeth Vischer's photographs from her collection, on display at the Scottish Seabird Centre

Ms Vischer sorted them into categories, separating out cable ties, cotton buds, firework fragments, plastic cutlery, toys, Lego, dog balls, plastic flowers, hair ties, plastic pins, combs and personal hygiene items.

Some of the waste was recent, some centuries old and testimony to the long history of our disposable culture that includes old curlers. Some of these items , such as cotton buds and plastic cutlery, are now banned. 

Both artists said the experience had changed their lives. 

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For Ms Barnes, working on the project has made her not only to pare her personal plastic use but also become more vocal about the problem and call for corporate accountability and action.  

She said: I have moved from a sense of being haunted and overwhelmed by the situation, to getting angry about the reality.

“This problem is growing every day, a modern-day plague of plastic, which knows no boundaries, it reaches everywhere, causing death and destruction and is also ending up on our dinner plates.”