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Stateside Podcast: Plastic bags make good art

Plastic_Bag_Store_Credit Maria Baranova
Maria Baranova
Artist Robin Frohardt

Plastic, plastic, everywhere

There's a lot to think about when you're at the grocery store: your meal plans, your taste, your budget. But what about your plastic bag consumption? Brooklyn-based artist Robin Frohardt takes on the problem of single use plastics through a traveling art installation now stationed in Ann Arbor: "The Plastic Bag Store."

Stepping into Frohardt's exhibit feels like walking into your average supermarket. In reality, the makeshift grocery store is made from discarded plastics and other pieces of waste. There are vegetables, colorful sheet cakes, boxes of cereal; all made of repurposed plastic. Objects have cheeky labels, like “Yucky Shards” a punny take on “Lucky Charms.”

“Yucky shards is what it says,” Frohardt said. “[T]he ingredient says: part of a toothbrush, a broken pin cap, half a comb, a bread bag tab, a stir stick.”

Visitors are encouraged to look closely at each piece and reflect upon its contents and the message that it sends. Although Frohardt aims to create awareness around the issue of single-use plastics and waste, she believes that awareness does not have to be accompanied by shame.

“My hope is that this is like a more fun, engaging way to think about this kind of stuff. It's not just about shaming us or individuals,” Frohardt said. “It's a deeper, more introspective, more funny way to hopefully think about something that can feel just too overwhelming.”

A ban on bans of plastic bags

Frohardt’s installation comes at an interesting time in Michigan when legislators are revisiting the issue of plastic bags in the state. Back in 2016, Michigan put a policy in place that restricted local governments from issuing bans on the sale and distribution of plastic bags. That ban on plastic bag bans gained attention across the nation. Nine years later, with a Democratic majority in the state House and Senate, Michigan legislators are hoping to rethink the ban.

In the Spring of 2021, Michigan State Senator Jeff Irwin proposed a repeal of the existing plastic bag policy. Irwin was a member of the State House of Representatives when the ban was put in place in 2016.

“Here was a situation where as soon as local governments started to contemplate local solutions to a real problem, the industry was able to just go to the legislature and very quickly, very easily get a bill that says local governments aren't allowed to talk about any of this,” Irwin said. “It was very frustrating. There was very little conversation about the unintended impacts of this kind of restriction on local government.”

With the Michigan State House and Senate both led by Democrats, Senator Irwin hopes to see the party band together to pass policy changes, including environmental policies.

“[M]aybe we should hold polluters accountable to clean up their mess; make sure that our water and our air is protected.,” Irwin said. “And I think that this issue of plastic bags is just a signifier for all of those issues.”

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Anna joined Stateside as an assistant producer in August 2021. She is a recent graduate of Michigan State University's School of Journalism and previously worked for The State News as an intern and student government reporter.