Saving the environment, one pop-up book at a time

Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean” is an illustrated, pop-up book for elementary-aged children which aims to raise awareness of ocean pollution. The pop-up book was created by Herminia Din, professor of art at UAA, and Astor Lai, a book designer from Taiwan, over the course of two years. 

Herminia Din, professor of art at UAA, incorporates her philosophy of art and reusability as a force for change by using repurposed materials in her pop-up book “Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean.” Photo by John Novotny.

Both Din and Lai grew up in Taiwan and the issue of ocean pollution has become a shared interest of theirs. Din was exposed to the issue at an early age. 

“The place that I grew up in Taipei City had a big river running through it. It was totally polluted because people just [thought] ‘out of sight, out of the way.’” Din said. “It took a long time [to clean up]. You can find fish there now, let’s put it that way.”

Lai was involved in the illustration, layout design and creation of the story, among other aspects of the project. 

A storyboard in the gallery showed Din and Lai’s early outline for the book. Photo by John Novotny.

“I have been concerned about the marine environment for the past few years, so I was happy to accept the opportunity to work with [Din],” Lai said. 

“Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean” has two physical sides with related stories. The plastic ocean side shows how garbage from cities makes its way into the ocean ecosystem and eventually into the food we eat. The clean ocean side shows how we can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly by reducing our plastic use and waste. 

The plastic ocean side begins with a happy city with the sun shining down. As readers move from left to right, however, the colors and tone begin to darken. A massive trash island in the middle of the ocean shows how the most remote places in the world are impacted by plastic pollution. This section is based on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Din said. At the end of the plastic ocean side are a smog-filled sky and a plate of fish next to salt and pepper shakers with colorful microplastics in them. 

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The clean ocean side includes ways people can reduce their plastic waste, such as using cloth tote bags for groceries, crafting toys and art out of old milk jugs and plastic bottles and recycling.

Din researched ocean pollution by reading several scientific papers. The pop-up book is one product of that research. In the book, Din paints a grim picture that portrays the result if people don’t reduce their plastic use. 

The data says that by 2050, the garbage in the ocean will outweigh the fish we can eat,” Din said, “I think [that point] could be sooner.”

There is a companion book included with the pop-up book that contains relevant facts and information as readers make their way through the pop-up. All of the additional materials fit inside a multipurpose bookcase. The companion book can also be combined with the bookcase to create a puppet stage. In addition, the book also comes with little stick puppets. 

The entire packaging of the book has been designed in a way to minimize one-use products. This philosophy is exemplified in the exterior wrapping. The only thing preventing the book from falling out of its case is a small paper sleeve. 

However, printing shops had objections to using paper packaging, according to Din.

“A lot of publishing pop-up book printer shops want to do shrink wrapping and we said no. A big no,” Din said. 

“I have to [display the early versions of the project] because it shows the transformation [of it],” Din said. “The final product didn’t [just] happen.” Photo by John Novotny.
Riva Symko, the Kimura and ARC Gallery curator, says that Din’s solutions to problems encountered in production set an example for others to follow. 

“[The paper sleeve] solved problems that other designers can look to who are also trying to reduce plastic packaging,” Symko said. 

The next step for “Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean” is to secure a publisher, Din says. 

“[Business students] want to see if they can create a business plan and then see if I can get a publisher and have a larger production and distribution,” Din said

Although not addressed directly in the book, polluting corporations are also part of the problem, according to Din.

“We’ve given [corporations] permission to pollute our planet because we enjoy their [products],” Din said, “Now, we’re becoming more aware that we’re part of [the problem] as well.”

Din still believes that there is hope of reducing the world’s waste. 

“It’s not like we can continue this kind of lifestyle or consumption and still expect that we’ll have a clean ocean and fish to eat,” Din said. 

Din hopes that when children see the book, they’ll begin to ask questions about why the environment is so polluted. They may also see others like them, such as Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate and environmental activist who has spoken at the United Nations, and be inspired to take action. 

“If they’re more aware of the problems, then hopefully they can be a voice. Just like a lot of youth advocates right now, like Greta Thunberg,” Din said. “I think if kids know more then hopefully they… can influence [adults].

Some other works included in the exhibit are made by Anchorage re:MADE, a local non-profit, which creates art out of reclaimed materials. Stuffed whales made from old denim jeans are placed on shelves above a flowing wave of jeans. Lamps made from old car parts are also on display. 

“Our Clean Ocean” is on display in the Kimura Gallery in the Fine Arts Building room 222B until Oct. 4. The gallery is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. “Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean” is also available to pre-order on Anchorage re:MADE’s website.