Adrift Lab

Instagram: @adriftlabscience

Our action takes the form of a visual diary describing our increasing reliance on plastic, and how science has been interwoven in this over the past century. Each post reflects a major over the past 100 years. Through documents, text and photographs, we highlight the initial excitement surrounding the creation of the first plastics (eg. Bakelite) which ushered in an era of innovation, science, and discovery.  Within a matter of decades, plastics had become inexpensive and ubiquitous in our daily lives, transforming society into one that focused on ‘throwaway living’ and increased convenience. Scientists quickly returned to this as they began to document plastic items in our oceans and wildlife. Though evidence of the detrimental impacts of plastic on our environment — and even human health — has increased substantially, plastic production accelerates, outpacing positive behavioural and policy change. Facing the realities and legacy of this pollutant is an important part of what Adrift Lab does, and this action, DISPOSABLE PROGRESS, is a valuable tool for all of us to reflect on.

This project is part of our plastics research program supported by Detached Cultural Organization, University of Tasmania, The Natural History Museum London, Lord Howe Island Museum (especially I. Hutton), the islands and communities in which we work, Pure Oceans Fund, L. Mortensen, L. Brice and the generosity of countless others.

Artist bio

Adrift Lab is an interdisciplinary group of Australian and international scientists who investigate the ecological impacts of plastic pollution on our environment. We are passionate about science communication, and engage with diverse and talented partners who help us translate our science and stories of birds, plastic and remote islands into beautiful pieces that engage the global community in this critical issue that affects us all. Recent exhibitions include GYRO at the 2016 London Design Biennale and SUBLETHAL at the 2020 Biennale of Sydney.


Leo Baekeland Plastic.

Leo Baekeland Plastic.

A man who revolutionized the world. Leo Baekeland (1863 – 1944). ​

The invention of plastic and billiards. Not a normal pairing one might argue. By the mid 1800s, billiards had become a symbol of status to the wealthy. This is because billiard balls were made from the most exquisite ivory, a resource becoming increasingly scarce with the unsustainable hunting of elephants. Because of the demand for fine ivory, elephant populations were decimated, and a new material was needed.

Plastics Revolutionize, Modern Mechanix magazine, 1936

Plastics Revolutionize, Modern Mechanix magazine, 1936

This was an age of wonder, of possibility, of science fiction. The invention of the world's first fully synthetic plastic material was the work of Leo Baekeland in 1909. This material became known as Bakelite.​ It was lightweight, cheap to produce and moldable to almost any shape, which opened up     a plethora of opportunities.​

Bakelite Logo

Bakelite Logo

Bakelite became synonymous with possibility. "The material with a thousand uses" became a familiar saying and the Bakelite logo even encompassed an infinity symbol.

A wave was building, a wave like no other.



  1. Leo Baekeland Plastic. (accessed March 23, 2021).
  2. Plastics Revolutionize, Modern Mechanix magazine, 1936.
  3. Bakelite Logo

Presented by Lillian Stewart, PhD Candidate at Adrift Lab, based at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.


Wisdom the Laysan Albatross with her chick on Midway Atoll

Wisdom the Laysan Albatross with her chick on Midway Atoll

Wisdom is the oldest known Laysan Albatross. At around 71 years old (as of 2021), she was born into an ocean free of plastic in the early 1950s.

Within a matter of decades, plastics have become cheap and ubiquitous in our daily lives, transforming society into one that’s focused on ‘throwaway living’ and increasing convenience. In the 1945 book ‘Plastics’, Yarsley and Cousins describe a carefree, plastic-filled life: “This [imaginary] plastic man will come into a world of colour and bright shining surfaces where childish hands find nothing to break, no sharp edges, or crevices to harbour germs... The walls of his nursery, all his toys, the teething ring he bites, the unbreakable bottle he feeds from [are all plastic]. As he grows he cleans his teeth with plastic brushes, clothes himself in plastic clothes, and writes his first lesson with a plastic pen. The windows of his school, curtained with plastic cloth, [are] entirely grease- and dirt-proof ... and the frames, like those of his house, are of moulded plastic, light and easy to open, never requiring any paint.” ​Our addiction to plastic has begun.


Image description/credit:

  1. Wisdom the Laysan Albatross with her chick on Midway Atoll.
  2. Three vintage ads from 1950-1954

Presented by Dr Jennifer Lavers, Marine Biologist at Adrift Lab, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, based at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.


Albatross carcass full of plastics, Kenyon, K.W., Kridler, E., 1969

Albatross carcass full of plastics, Kenyon, K.W., Kridler, E., 1969

1944 Vinylite Plastics advertisement

1944 Vinylite Plastics advertisement

Pearl and Hermes Reef: a tiny atoll located in the North Pacific Ocean.

1966: a mere 57 years after plastics were first invented.

How little time it took for a wild animal to mistakenly ingest plastic. ​

100 Laysan Albatross carcasses examined; 74 carcasses with plastics; 241 pieces found in total. Astonishing figures considering it was the first ever research paper, published in The Auk in 1969, to describe the ingestion of plastics by wildlife. ​

In 1944 a plastic sachet containing a coffee ration was found washed up on a beach in New Guinea. It was celebrated for its longevity. ​

Years later in 1974, a ship steamed through the North Pacific and towed a net to record floating tar. They found plastics as well. Sixty-two pieces to be exact, which equated to 34,000 pieces per square kilometre. It is no wonder that the albatrosses were found with ingested plastics. ​

Purple hermit crab using an Avon hand cream container, by Jennifer Lavers.

Purple hermit crab using an Avon hand cream container, by Jennifer Lavers.

In 2015 a research voyage to Henderson Island in the South Pacific Ocean took place. The researchers found a purple hermit crab using an Avon hand cream container as its home. We dated the container; circa 1961. ​

That Avon container will outlive the hermit crab. It will go on to live another day and possibly become another hermit crab’s home.

In 1971 the James Bond film ‘Diamonds are forever’ was released. Maybe it should have been called ‘Plastics are forever’ instead. Would have been more fitting, don’t you think? ​


Image description/credit:

  1. Albatross carcass full of plastics, Kenyon, K.W., Kridler, E., 1969. Laysan Albatrosses swallow indigestible matter. Auk 86, 339-343.
  2. 1944 Vinylite Plastics advertisement, by @rebecca_altman on Twitter.
  3. Purple hermit crab using an Avon hand cream container, by Jennifer Lavers.
  4. 1961 Avon advertisement showcasing the same hand cream,

Presented by Megan Grant, PhD Candidate at Adrift Lab, based at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania.


The first wave of environmental movements began with a photo of Earth from the moon. The second wave is here, driven by social media and heart-breaking videos and photos of the damage we are doing to the planet and wildlife. Can we make the most of the #SecondWave?


Presented by Dr Jack Auty, Researcher and Lecturer in Biomedicine at Adrift Lab based at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania.


So what does the future have in store? If we return to the natural places that we enjoyed as children, or that our parents or grandparents explored, what will greet us? On remote, uninhabited Henderson Island, in the #PitcairnIslands, the answer is stark: a largely pristine beach has transformed into one littered with 18 tonnes of rubbish in only 25 years (1991-2015).

Even with all the mitigation measures in place today, plastic production is still increasing exponentially and leaks from waste management streams continue spewing rubbish into our oceans, rivers, and waterways. It can seem overwhelming and unstoppable. But by pressuring companies and politicians to work together to stem the tide of plastic pollution, we can hopefully, one day, return to our pristine beaches.


Image description/credit:

  1. East Beach, Henderson Island, in 1991, photo by Marshall Weisler.
  2. East Beach in 2015 showing plastic and debris, by Jennifer Lavers.
  3. Jennifer Lavers documents the extent of debris on Henderson Island in 2019, by Alex Bond.
  4. Hermit crabs on Henderson Island lounging in a discarded bucket, by Alex Bond.
  5. Looking across the reef to East Beach in 2019 you can see the fishing buoys, crates and ropes, by Alex Bond.
  6. A Masked Booby breeds among the beach debris on Henderson Island, by Alex Bond.

Presented by Dr Alex Bond, Ecologist and Conservation Biologist at Adrift Lab, based at the Natural History Museum, Tring, UK.

Past Actions

07 Jun - 13 Jun 2021

Unbound Collective

31 May - 06 Jun 2021

OLC Art Collective

24 May - 30 May 2021

Naomi Hobson

17 May - 23 May 2021

Adrft Lab

10 May - 16 May 2021

Pat Brassington

03 May - 09 May 2021

Eddie Abd

26 Apr - 02 May 2021

Loren Kronemyer

19 Apr - 25 Apr 2021

Guo Jian

12 Apr - 18 Apr 2021

Kenny Pittock

05 Apr - 11 Apr 2021

Jannawi Dance Clan

29 Mar - 04 Apr 2021

Gillian Kayrooz

22 Mar - 28 Mar 2021

Nathan Beard

15 Mar - 21 Mar 2021

Pilar Mata Dupont

08 Mar - 14 Mar 2021

Michael Cook

01 Mar - 07 Mar 2021

Seini F Taumoepeau

22 Feb - 28 Feb 2021

Dani Marti

15 Feb - 21 Feb 2021

Lill Colgan & Sab D'Souza

08 Feb - 14 Feb 2021

Chris Yee

01 Feb - 07 Feb 2021

Rochelle Haley

25 Jan - 31 Jan 2021

Karrabing Film Collective

18 Jan - 24 Jan 2021

Nici Cumpston

11 Jan - 17 Jan 2021

Johnathon World Peace Bush

07 Dec - 13 Dec 2020


30 Nov - 06 Dec 2020

Raquel Ormella

23 Nov - 29 Nov 2020

Léuli Eshrāghi

16 Nov - 22 Nov 2020

Rolande Souliere

09 Nov - 15 Nov 2020

TV Moore

02 Nov - 08 Nov 2020

Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu

26 Oct - 01 Nov 2020

Ivey Wawn

19 Oct - 25 Oct 2020

Naomi Blacklock

12 Oct - 18 Oct 2020

Sancintya Mohini Simpson

05 Oct - 11 Oct 2020

Yhonnie Scarce

28 Sep - 04 Oct 2020

Ruha Fifita

21 Sep - 27 Sep 2020

Kaylene Whiskey

14 Sep - 20 Sep 2020

Adam Linder

07 Sep - 13 Sep 2020

Archie Barry

31 Aug - 06 Sep 2020

Min Wong

24 Aug - 30 Aug 2020

Hayley Millar-Baker

17 Aug - 23 Aug 2020

Erin Coates

10 Aug - 16 Aug 2020

Diego Bonetto

03 Aug - 09 Aug 2020

Tyza Hart

27 Jul - 02 Aug 2020

Larissa Hjorth

20 Jul - 26 Jul 2020

Louise Zhang

13 Jul - 19 Jul 2020

Henri Papin (Meijers & Walsh)

06 Jul - 12 Jul 2020


29 Jun - 05 Jul 2020

Rainbow Chan

22 Jun - 28 Jun 2020

Jason Phu

15 Jun - 21 Jun 2020

Abdul Abdullah

08 Jun - 14 Jun 2020

Patricia Piccinini

01 Jun - 07 Jun 2020

Brook Andrew

25 May - 31 May 2020


18 May - 24 May 2020

James Tylor