Michelle from Smartie Lids On The Beach

art artist beach cleaning beach plastic cornwall

For the series Good Folk on this blog I have sent interview questions to some really wonderful people who are either making things, running shops, or generally promoting sustainability. I think you will enjoy reading their answers as much as I have, and I hope they inspire us all with the knowledge that there are people doing good in the world!
This interview is with Michelle from Smartie Lids On The Beach. Michelle collects sea plastic from Cornish beaches and turns it into unique pieces of art, which are available to buy online. I absolutely love her colour wheels. Here she tells us about her process and her work:

Quirky, colourful art made from plastic collected from beautiful Cornish beaches. 
My name is Michelle. large wheel
I have always cleaned beaches, living in Cornwall, so close to the beach and having a love of nature. It is just a way of life.

But after the storms of 2014 the beaches were covered in plastic. I had never seen so much before, it was extreme.

Since then I clean the beach as often as I can. At least twice a week. My dog walks often take place on the beach and I will always pick up litter. Full beach cleans can take hours and I pick up hundreds of bits of plastic. 

I am a treasure hunter so I am drawn to collecting unusual items. My favourite things to look for are items of lego from the Tokio Express container spill. Also smartie lids, a lid from a tube of chocolate beans that was discontinued in 2005. I love finding vintage toys, soldiers, dolls arms, hair clips and toy car wheels. 

I also collect micro plastic and nurdles. These items are less than 5mm. 20/20 vision is essential!!
nurdles
I have huge collections of various items such as drinks caps, bio media filter, remembrance poppy stems, combs and hundreds of toothbrushes. 

Marine creatures are the main reason I clean the beach, it is their home and we have messed it up. I believe that anything non-natural should be removed.
Huge amounts of fishing waste wash up so it was inevitable that I should very quickly become a vegetarian.

I am drawn to colourful items to include in my art. My popular colour wheels contain between 200 and 400 individual pieces of plastic that have all been collected from the strand line.

I also collect flexible plastic that I can cut into shapes for my art, usually creatures that live in the sea. orcas

I think people are becoming more aware of the problems of plastic in the environment and its over use after seeing plastic washed up on beaches. This helps them make changes in their every day lives, finding alternatives and refusing plastic. The more tourist popular beaches have definitely become cleaner over the past year as people use the initiative and pick up items, removing them from harms way. 

Remote beaches still have lots of plastic on them. The microplastics are a huge problem as it goes unseen by many people, that's why I target them in general. Among the small bits of plastic lie the treasures so it's a win win for me. 

Sometimes I focus on one item such as cotton bud sticks and I once collected 637 of them from one beach!
seahorse
My favourite thing about the materials I use in my art is that I never know what I'm going to find so each individual piece is different. The sand, sea and sun do something amazing to plastic giving it a texture and patina that is truly beautiful. I am often in awe and bewilderment of the distances plastic can travel and I spend ages trying to work out what items were or where they have come from and how they have ended up on the beach.

My family and friends beach clean with me, especially my husband who is a massive support to me.

My art is the perfect way for me to get the message of marine debris across to people. It becomes a talking point, a story, a conversation starter. It allows the word to be spread. toucan

I sell my art locally in cafes and gift shops including Morva in Marazion
and The Upcycled Home Mount Edgcombe.
Also Gweek Seal Sanctuary and Boscastle National Trust gift shop.
I attend regular markets including The Ecopark Porthtowan and Crantock village hall. I will be at Gwel an Mor Christmas Fair 21st-22nd November.

I have a website shop www.smartielidsonthebeach.co.uk
and an Etsy shop

Michelle Costello
Cornish beach cleaner and Marine debris artist 
Michelle Costello


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