Trash Babies
Margot Wallston

Materials: mixed media

We live in a society that values advancements in technology and applauds new products that make work faster and our lives easier.  New synthetic materials and products appear on store shelves daily—enticing the consumer to buy and replace and buy some more.  But what are the costs of living in a disposable world?  We keep getting new stuff and more stuff, yet the old stuff isn’t disappearing.  Why do we continue to allow ourselves to pretend not to see what a mess is piling up before our very eyes?

As an environmental educator engaging the public in wetland restoration along the shoreline of the SF Bay, I often look out over the last remaining marshes in our bay at what should be healthy habitat for a variety of wildlife.  However, for every bird resting on a fragment of marshland in Oakland, there is also over five times as much trash: bits of Styrofoam, plastic straws, bottle caps, cigarette tips, chip bags, and used bottles of motor oil pepper the small stretch of marsh.  I bring hundreds of volunteers throughout the year to clean up this very marsh, but the trash keeps coming back.  This little stretch of marsh in Oakland is no different than many other places in the SF Bay area.  Moreover, there are areas in distant oceans where trash from around the world converges and amasses for miles in every direction.  News reports abound of animals who are ensnared in floating trash, or who die of starvation with bellies full of indigestible garbage.  The human animal may become the biggest victim of accumulating pollution, and yet, there is a disconnect between this disgusting truth and our daily actions.  Even here on Laney Campus, where brilliant white egrets call attention to our proximity to the estuary, litter is abundant.

Education is the key to behavior change.  My “Trash BAYbies” are a new kind of educational tool, presenting a more accurate version of reality.  As unwanted discards, salvaged from the shelves of secondhand stores, they are born of the same consumerism that they are now combating.  For decades, children have learned to love and care for wild animals by visiting zoos or by owning a cute, stuffed doll replica of a wild animal that never leaves their side.  Yet, how accurate a portrayal is the soft brown monkey that never has to find food to eat, has no predators, and lives in the warmth of a child’s bed?  Even the animals in the zoo show us little of the challenges today’s wild animals face in order to survive.  “Trash BAYbies” reveal what has previously been concealed and ignored.  They maintain the appeal of traditional stuffed animals, but they simultaneously insist that the viewer address the uncomfortable and the ugly.  They are the future of toys, teaching environmental ethics and encouraging adults and children alike to accept the responsibility to create a healthier world. 

If you are interested in sharing a Trash BAYby with the rest of the world or if you would like more information about my art, please contact me at

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