Flotsam and Jetsam: Beach Trash Art

October 11, 2020 by sitontop_kayak

By Rob Casey
It all started with finding plastic bags and other ‘garbage’ while on a beach walk at our favorite beach on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

We started to pick up the items with the goal of cleaning the beach. We knew some of the items floated in but wondered if others were dropped by beachgoers and fishermen.

Much of the trash was put in the recycle bin or thrown away. We kept a few interesting items such as toy figures, bottles with Japanese lettering and abstract plastic pieces disfigured by years of saltwater corrosion.

One day, I began to document and post on social media our finds with the goal of hoping others would join us around the Puget Sound in cleaning the beaches.

As a photographer with a background in still-life imagery, I eventually began creating ‘knolling’ still-lifes of our finds. My thinking was that a beautiful fine art photo of the beach trash would be seen more, would educate folks about the issue, thus making a greater impact.

That was ten years ago.

In the years since, we’ve found everything floats in and the flow is non-stop. Nonetheless, our favorite beach is clean of most trash not including new items that float in during storms, or that may emerge by the constantly changing beach environment.

The most common items are tampon applicators, bottle caps, plastic bottles, straws, plastic rope, chunks of bead foam and plastic, shotgun wads and tin cans. After the Fourth of July, bottle rocket nose tips and sticks float in for a few months.

Larger items include crab pots and buoys, plastic buckets, sailboat rudders and fishing gear including heavy nets. This haul (below) was from summer 2020 and included crab pot buoys, a kids paddle which we kept and plastic toys.

We’ve also found native artifacts and in Seattle historic beach trash both new and dating back a hundred years under a 108-year old train bridge.

The weirdest items include a coconut, strips of aluminum, a sun shower (which we now use), a 5-foot tall boat rudder and broken oar. A friend in the San Juans once found a coconut with a machete slash in it.

Tiny bits of bead foam and plastic are the most difficult to remove. Our bull kelp beds are full of miniscule plastic bits. When I run my hands through the sand in certain beaches, bead foam and plastic bits emerge.

We also find larger items that require us to haul in with our kayaks, SUP and even a surf ski. Here, I have a plastic fishing bin strapped with my leash to my surf ski.

Recently, I began shooting individual pieces to show the detail such as these shotgun wads.

Tips for Beach Clean-ups:
– Bring an old backpack to stuff beach trash in. Or put the trash in a bag.
– If paddling in, think how you’ll carry stuff out.
– Bring a serrated knife to cut heavy fishing rope or remove items from sea life.
– Often, we find plastic buckets and plastic bags then use those to haul out other trash.
– During Covid, consider using plastic gloves and/or a grabber to remove items in urban areas.
– Recycle what you can, donate re-usable items.
– Photograph and post on social media your findings and progress!

See more of my beach trash photos at

See new beach trash art on my Instagram pages @salmonbaypaddle and @robcaseyphoto

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