The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Now Has Its Own Visual Identity

Give that massive pile of trash a currency, a passport, and a flag, and you’ve got yourself a nation.

Could the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–that big floating amalgam of garbage that’s floating in the Pacific Ocean–ever become a bona fide country? That’s what a group of creatives and environmentalists are advocating for, as part of an international campaign to raise awareness about the massive clump of trash roughly the size of France.


It may sound like a joke, but the campaign–a collaboration between the nonprofit Plastic Oceans Foundation and the U.K.-based entertainment company LADbible–has already sent an application to the UN requesting that it recognize the Garbage Patch as a country. (Its official name? The Trash Isles.) The crusade launched earlier this summer, but it’s picked up steam this fall with Al Gore agreeing to become the country’s first honorary “citizen.” Since then, more than 125,000 people have signed a petition requesting citizenship–which would make Trash Isles the 25th-smallest country in the world.

But what makes a country? Sure, you need a government, official international recognition, laws, and a permanent population. But in lieu of those, the Trash Isles decided to bolster its claim with some of the other trappings of statehood–like an official flag, passport, paper currency, and even stamps. In essence, a visual identity.

[Photo: LADbible]
Created by LADbible and the London-based designer Mario Kerkstra, the Isles’ new branding helps to give the campaign a greater sense of legitimacy. All the imagery looks markedly official, as though it could belong to any actual country–at least, at first glance. On second look, its fixation with trash totally subverts any self-important pomp.

The flag has a white upper half and a blue lower half, with a plastic bottle appearing to bob in the blue. The faded colors and iridescent strips on the currency, called Debris, looks authentic–until you notice the little plastic bottle outline showing up in the iridescence, and the bills’ depiction of the country’s most iconic locales and its famous residents: a seagull with a soda can wrapper around its neck, a whale’s tale surrounded by floating garbage peeking out of the water, and  a crazed-looking seal ensnared in rope. The signature on the Debris is Julie Anderson’s, the executive director of the Plastic Oceans Foundation.The blue and gold passport is made of recycled materials (it’s unclear if the 125,000 signatories will get their own, though Gore certainly will).

[Photo: LADbible]
Of course, the Trash Isles don’t stand a chance at becoming a real country–in a press conference, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General called the possibility “fairly nil.” But the campaign is a clever way to present the problem of ocean pollution to the UN. Eight million tons of plastic end up our oceans each year–the branding for the “country” makes the scale of the garbage patch tangible by using realistic but disturbing images of animals mired in trash. Since these images are presented as emblematic of a place few will ever see, the branding brings the plight of the oceans into the context of urgent international policy.

“By becoming a country, other countries are obliged to clean us up,” says the online petition where people can sign up to be citizens. “So, come on fellow Trash Isles countrymen, let’s put down the plastic, get off our arses, and pull together to ensure the world’s first country made of trash is its last.”

About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.