DTC installation exposes water bottle waste

A stream of 2000 empty water bottles, cascading from the first to the ground floor of the Downtown Campus, was installed on Tuesday, Nov. 5 to inform ...

Nov 9, 2013

A stream of 2000 empty water bottles, cascading from the first to the ground floor of the Downtown Campus, was installed on Tuesday, Nov. 5 to inform students about water bottle waste.
The installation is a collaborative project between Student Interest Groups Ecoherence and 1607 Artists Collective. The 2000 used water bottles were collected from students at NYU Abu Dhabi in one week. As the installation's accompanying plaque reads, “about 186.4 litres of oil were used to produce this installation,” and the bottles will take from “400 to 1000 years to decompose if they are not recycled.”
Project leader and freshman student Brittany Trilford said that overuse of water bottles is the simplest example of wasteful consumption at NYUAD.
"The most cliché thing that everyone talks about in relation to environmental issues here is the water bottle issue," said Trilford. "There's millions of them in everyone's cupboards; it's disgusting ... so it seemed like an easy start."
The water bottles are held together with string and partially cover the walkway near the entrance of DTC's Multipurpose Room. Working with both 1607 Artists Collective and Ecoherence, Trilford said that the idea of an ironic dry waterfall first sprung from logistical questions.
"It started with a structural [problem]," said Trilford. "How to get an installation in the space that works and demands a lot of attention, while not being intrusive? [And] we were playing with the idea of water."
Ecoherence chairperson and sophomore Louis Plottel was supportive of Trilford's idea from the beginning.
"It's so funny to create a juxtaposition between a waterfall, [with its] images of cleanliness and serenity and naturalness, and juxtaposing that with the plastic that people consume — exactly the thing that pollutes environments like waterfalls," said Plottel.
Immediately visible from the main entrance to DTC, the waterfall is geared toward confronting students about waste. The installation's plaque claims that “thinking critically about the products we use, and the waste we generate” are essential practices for an ethical and socially responsible life.
“Seeing it right there reminds people that waste doesn't go away, even when we throw it in the garbage bin," said Plottel. "It doesn't actually disappear, it's just taken to a new location."
1607 Artists Collective chairperson and sophomore Nino Cricco said that the installation’s obtrusiveness was its most important feature.
“That’s a conflict we had with security and Public Safety — the extent to which we could cover up the hallway,” said Cricco. “I actually would have preferred [for] it to cover more of the space … the point is that we produce all of this trash but send it away so we never see the amount we consume.
For senior Carmen Germaine, the installation's message for mindful consumption was clear. However, Germaine said that it would be difficult to change students' habits.
"I think we're pretty ingrained here — like I know I should be using glasses or a reusable bottle, but I just keep forgetting and usually buy a bottle when I go down for meals," said Germaine. "I reuse the plastic bottles when I remember, but I forget all the time."
Ecoherence member and sophomore Dóri Pálfi was also unsure as to whether or not the installation could push students to change their habits.
"I'm a bit skeptical because we've tried a lot of things to do with the water bottles," said Palfi. "[But] at least they did something with the bottles [to] attract the people's attention to the problem."
Sophomore Ana Pereu agreed that habits will be hard to change but said that the installation is an effective reminder for her of wasteful consumption.
"Often, taking a bottle of water is so much handier, but the waterfall was a wake up call, for sure," said Pereu.
Trilford anticipated the difficulty of changing students' habits, but she was happy that the project could provoke further discussion about water bottle waste.
"For me, personally, it was all about starting a conversation," said Trilford. "Here, as much as I hate it, having bottled water is just what people do, and there is no way that one installation will change it."
For Cricco, the conversation about recycling and consumption waste has already started. He said that members of the administration have asked about the waterfall installation, commenting that it has made them question the destination of waste in the UAE.
“[People are] unsure about how the recycling in the UAE works … there are rumours that what you put in the recycling bin is thrown in the trash anyway,” said Cricco.
Plottel said that environmentalism asks for very small and easy actions. The strength of the Ecoherence project is that it does not simply inform but also points to simple solutions.
"People try so hard to get messages across to other people at this school, but for what purpose?" said Plottel. "I think environmentalism, or just being aware of what we're consuming, can easily change the habits of each person."
Ecoherence plans to continue using art projects to bring students' attention to wasteful consumption. Plottel deliberated extending the water bottles project with an adaptation, such as tying bottles around a person's waist for a day so that the waste would be haunting as a ghost. He is also looking forward to further collaboration with 1607 Artists Collective.
"We want to keep doing art pieces, big displays like this so people at our school can change habits as simple as reusing the bottles we use everyday," said Plottel. "That goes for so many simple things like that, like not using a tray in the dining hall."
Joey Bui is news editor. Email her at 
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