From London to Airport Rd., ocean plastic flags coming to C4EE

From the busiest street in Europe to the rural backdrop of the former Halifax County Airport, 21 flags made from discarded ocean plastics will be on display Wednesday night as the Center for Energy Education begins its Light the Night program.

Light the Night, with the Clean Power Avenue of Flags, will serve as precursor to SolarFEST the following day.

The creation of Oliver Wayman and artist Morag Myerscough, the flags have been conversation starters about the clean energy movement, Wayman said earlier this week.

“I guess I’ve always been involved in sustainability and environmentally-led projects and now my main purpose and mission is to really create public engagement installations that can help to win over hearts and minds,” he said.

He learned of C4EE through a filmmaker who has been working with the center. “Because of the fantastic work that the Center For Energy Education has been doing and really being a bastion of progression around climate change and acceleration to renewable energy in the area I’m really excited to be part of this.”

He said he was also attracted to the center because of the community-led programs it does. “I would say with the climate conservation in general and renewable conversation in general we need to be engaging grassroots community activities in the way that they do and this is exactly what this is about.”

Mozine Lowe, executive director of C4EE, said, “The Clean Energy Avenue of Flags is a creative asset that visually highlights a renewable energy solution.” 

She said, “The flags are made of recycled ocean plastic which was ultimately transformed into yarn. This extraordinarily colorful display is a tremendous resource that aligns with the mission of the center.”

Flown on Oxford Street

The flags flew on London’s Oxford Street, the busiest street in Europe. “We’ve had over 6 million people view the campaign on Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. I love the juxtaposition of doing this in Europe and what we’re doing with a community-led activity in North Carolina to show that we need to be hitting people in every realm, from every perspective, from every angle whether it be central London or the more rural parts of North Carolina.”

It’s all part of creating engagement in communities to help show people that clean energy “is a viable way for us to move forward and actually expedite the renewable conversation and the transition we need to make before it’s too late.”

The 21 flags are made from the equivalent of thousands of plastic bottles, he said. “You can imagine the amount of plastics we’re going through and unfortunately not enough is going into the recycling and even parts that end up in landfills are often ending up in marine environments.”

After their useful life the flags will be made into fashion accessories.

He has worked with a series of partners who specialize in extracting this plastic from the ocean and then rework them into a useful yarn that can then be made as a textile.

Because of the plastics discarded into the ocean, the animals who call the waters home “are going through a harrowing process because of the amount of plastic in the ocean. Whales, dolphins and even porpoises, they’re all going through it. The ocean plastic cleanup is very necessary. There’s a lot of very interesting technologies starting up for ways of mass collecting this waste.”

But, Wayman said, “There’s still a lot of work to be done. We’ve literally got these islands where all the plastic congregates and it’s a really sobering sight, really distressing to see. We’ve got a long way to go and this is going to be touching the tip of the iceberg, these flags, but the symbolism behind it is really important. It’s to say look what we can do from what you would otherwise find as waste. It’s like you can literally give it another lease on life and show there is a way to deal with this waste problem that we’ve got ourselves into.”

The plastics which make up the flags have been harvested from oceans around the world. 

Positive responses                                                                   

The flags have solicited positive responses, Wayman said. “The whole idea about this is trying to make sure it feels like an inclusive conversation and not one that’s saying you have to do this or else. It’s saying we are using the flags as a conduit, a flashpoint, as a catalyst to help be able to inspire actions and drive change.”

The idea was to make the flags colorful and bright. “We’re making sure people are attracted to this and then being able to get them into the conversation. The tide is turning. There’s no longer the same resistance to this kind of conversation there used to be. You’re always going to get some people who don’t agree but I like to think now that we are certainly working toward the majority realizing that this is the way we need to go. I hope these flags and this installation being used in this campaign can help do that.”

Wayman believes the flags highlight the positive aspects of the green and renewable conversation. “I think where we’ve come from so far there have actually been conversations which have been doused in negativity. There’s really lots of dark messaging that has contributed to it which is actually making people want to bury their heads in the sand and not become involved and say it’s too late now, it doesn’t matter so just carry on with what we’ve been doing.”

Turning the conversation around, he said, shows that people can have a positive conservation about the benefits of green renewable energy. “That’s a far more effective way of us trying to get people around the table in normal conversation than what’s happened so far. We’re turning that on its head so we can say this is a positive. We need to educate and help people realize that this doesn’t need to be a polarizing conversation.”

While flying on Oxford Street, Wayman said people love the aesthetics of the flags in a place he said “has a lot of catching up to do in terms of aesthetics. What the flags managed to do was elevate it, make it feel like a much prettier, more pleasant place to be.”

Beyond aesthetics

There is another message beyond aesthetics, he said. “The second is when you realize the messaging that’s involved if you already believe in this messaging – great – and if you’re not at least I think it’s opening up a discussion, a way you can start to engage.”

He directs people to the website where people can learn about the different actions being taken for the good of the environment in the United Kingdom. “It’s like what the Center for Energy Education is doing – finding ways to engage through community-led activities whether it’s job fairs or other engagement activities which can be so effective.”

That’s the reason he decided to get involved with Light the Night and C4EE – the approach it is taking “which fits so perfectly with my own perspective to drive the community at a grassroots level with initiatives like Light the Night and SolarFEST.”

He sees the festivities as a way to bring people into the conversation and bring to the table what C4EE is attempting to accomplish. “That’s what they do so well and that’s what’s been an absolute joy to have the opportunity to work with them. It’s exactly the kind of approach we need nationwide, if not even worldwide, around starting to shift mindsets and fill people with hope towards where we need to get to in this climate conversation and this transition to renewables.”

It was Wayman’s work as an A&R scout for Island Records which eventually led him down the clean energy path. “I started a separate project within music and whilst I was working on a Brazilian-influenced album I came across a bag made of recycled material and from there I stepped up to a sustainable fashion brand with my old business partner built around using sustainable and recycled materials for fashion accessories.”

The company, Bottletop, is still thriving today.

And from that another campaign was born – #TOGETHERBAND – which uses music fashion and promotes the United Nations Sustainable Development to promote a healthy planet.

While the flags will be in North Carolina next week, other campaigns are being held in Tokyo and New Zealand. “We’re trying to create a unified voice with this climate change message.”   

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