Earth Day: How museums have been highlighting plastic pollution

The Wild Escape activities at Beaconsfield Gallery, London, for Earth Day 2023

Ahead of Earth Day, we take a look at some of the work museums have been doing to highlight and help reduce plastic pollution.

Last year, Art Fund supported museums to run workshops and activities leading up to Earth Day as part of The Wild Escape – a major project bringing museums, schools and families together to think about biodiversity loss, inspired by BBC Wild Isles and in partnership with WWF UK, RSPB and English Heritage.

In the largest ever collaboration between UK museums, a total of 530 museums, galleries and historic houses together enabled over 103,000 young people to participate. In total, the project reached over 1.1 million museum visitors and 16.9 million online, with a wider reach of over 50 million people through media and outdoor media coverage.

We’re absolutely thrilled that every organisation who participated in The Wild Escape has been shortlisted together for Sustainable Project of the Year at the prestigious Museums & Heritage Awards 2024, alongside fellow Wild Escape participants Manchester Museum and Museum Development North West for 'Roots and Branches' and the Story Museum for 'Brilli-ANT'. Also nominated are Cairngorms Capercaillie Project, the Scottish Crannog Centre’s '1000 Fingerprints 1000 Voices', and Yorkshire and North East Film Archives’ 'Nature Matters'.

One year on, the theme of Earth Day 2024 is ‘Planet vs Plastics’, focusing on how we can reduce our reliance on plastics, to reduce pollution.

Below we’ve pulled together some of the work museums have been doing to highlight plastic pollution, as well as exhibitions and resources to inspire further learning this Earth Day and beyond.

Highlighting plastic as part of The Wild Escape

As part of The Wild Escape, artist Ruth Moilliet worked with Gallery Oldham, Horton Mill Community Primary School and family workshops to make recycled plastic flowers to form a beautiful art installation. The community came together to collect plastic bottles and colourful plastic carrier bags, mailbags and food bags, and think about how much single-use plastic they encounter in their everyday lives and what we can all do to reduce it.

At Greenfield Valley Museum Heritage Park, artist Danielle McIntyre ran workshops, again using discarded plastic – families decorated a world map with bottle tops.

Exhibitions exploring plastics

Groundbreaking exhibitions have also been exploring our relationships to plastics, plastic waste and how we can protect habitats, locally and internationally.

Mandy Barker’s Our Plastic Ocean opened at Impressions Gallery in Bradford and toured to Waterside in Sale, 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe, Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, Lincoln Museum, the Scottish Seabird Centre, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, Thurso Art Gallery, Gallery Oldham and Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries, and is now viewable online at Brighton Museums' Ocean Blues website, which is dedicated to exploring and protecting the Sussex coastline.

V&A Dundee collaborated with Vitra Design Museum and MAAT Lisbon to create Plastic: Remaking Our World, featuring prototypes, new technologies and cutting-edge materials as designers grapple with a material that has changed our world.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens created a display in their Aquarium, temporarily replacing the much-loved jellyfish with 30 plastic bags as part of their Let’s Beat Plastic Pollution campaign.

The Scottish Maritime Museum organised a Storm Walk, telling the story of oceans in crisis, and worked together with Irvine Clean Up Crew and Surfers Against Sewage and 60 local people to stop litter being washed into the Firth of Clyde.

Exhibitions to see this April

Portsmouth Museum and Art Gallery’s display Ocean at the End of the Lane: Discovering Portsmouth's coastline explores how we use and change the coastline and the affect this has on our environment. (Please note: The gallery is open Tue-Sun, closed Mondays.)

Planet Ocean at the Box in Plymouth looks at how we can study, use and take inspiration from local waters to play a part in a global movement to safeguard the sea. It's supported by a range of partners including the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, University of Plymouth and South West-based ocean conservation organisations.

The exhibition explores how essential plankton are to life on Earth, how marine biology has been actively pioneered in Plymouth since the 1880s, how plastics are only one part of a wider problem of marine litter and pollution, and how we have the power to be part of the solution. (Please note: The gallery is open Tue-Sun, closed Mondays.)

The Wild Escape activities at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, London, for Earth Day 2023
© Hydar Dewachi


We’ve brought together a selection of resources to help you learn more about plastic pollution and what museums can do to reduce plastic use – plus some fun activities for teachers and families to use in the classroom or at home.

General resources about plastic and plastic pollution

Information and inspiration for museums

Resources and ideas for teachers and young people

What are you doing for Earth Day this year? Share your activities on social using #EarthDay.

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