Archeoplastica In Savona: Five Pictures From The Temporary Museum Of Beached Waste

Late 1970s ice cream pipe found at Lido di Fermo Beach in 2021: a cult favorite from the 1980s.

I have always been interested in environmental issues, and I deeply appreciate every initiative aimed at educating and raising awareness about environmental protection and the preservation of the different species that inhabit our world.

Being in Savona for a few days, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that Archeoplastica had organized the temporary museum of beached waste at the city’s Priamar Fortress.

Archeoplastica is a national environmental awareness project founded by Enzo Suma, a nature guide from Ostuni (Italian region of Apulia) and founder of an association actively involved in organizing waste collection days on the beach. From these recovery initiatives, a large number of stranded plastic objects dating back to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and the following decades have emerged, testifying to how much plastic pollutes when abandoned in the environment. Then Archeoplastica became a virtual museum with its own website, giving rise to virtuous plastic recovery initiatives at other Italian beaches and resulting in a series of exhibitions that have also been covered in depth by Italian television networks and national newspapers. Thanks to all this, today Archeoplastica is a very active community on social media that, through the voices of many people, reconstructs and collects the sometimes incredible stories hidden behind the objects that are collected on the beach after a long journey.

The temporary exhibition at the Priamar Fortress represents Archeoplastica’s first display in Liguria, and has been titled “50 Years of Beached Waste: Vices and Virtues of Plastic between Product Design, Advertising and Eco-Sustainability”. The exhibition aims not only to showcase a series of exhibits accompanied by a wealth of information and videos, but also to historicize the role of plastic by highlighting its vices and virtues, as well as its ability to transform itself through recycling or to reinvent itself into bioplastics appropriate to our lifestyles and consumption.

I visited the exhibition last Saturday with my mother (who remembers many of the objects displayed because they date back to her childhood) and it was incredibly interesting to be able to learn the story behind these objects that emerged from the sea, showcased in the light-flooded halls of the Fortress. I noticed that it is a particularly popular exhibition also because of the strategic location of the Priamar, which is always visited by tourists from the cruise that docks in Savona on a weekly basis.

It was difficult to select pictures for this article because there is a considerable amount of objects displayed, including Yomo Yogurt, a soccer ball, bottles of bleach and Vetril (an Italian brand of glass cleaners), presented as museum exhibits. Below I have chosen five photos I took of the objects found on the beaches, with a brief explanation along with each photo:

1971 Caffè Suerte (Carovigno Beach) and 1970s Cif (Salento Beach, 2020)

1) Caffè Suerte, 1971 (Carovigno Beach) & Cif, 1970s (Salento, 2020): A 1971 advertisement showed that the cost of Caffè Suerte was 570 Italian liras on offer, just as it is written on this tin returned from the sea. Many coffee cans like this one have been found over the years, highlighting that in the late 1960s and early 1970s it was a big seller. The most dated among the ones found would cost 270 liras; in those days, Caffè Suerte was also sold in collectible containers bearing various figures on the graphics. These ones also emerge ashore from time to time, not always intact, which makes you think about the fact that all the plastic that has ended up in the sea still exists since it was first assembled.

Cif is one of the best-known brands most widely used for kitchen cleaning over the decades; this product was used in Italy in the mid-1970s (there was also a similar product in France). As with many old, white-colored garbage, one often gets the impression that it is recent, but if one looks in detail at the dark part of the graphic on the plastic, one can see countless scratches caused by the impact on the reefs. In the 1970s the shape of the cap was an inverted cone, as in the case of the object in question, while in the 1980s it became cylindrical. The shape of the bottle, on the other hand, remained the same for many years. Both products were found on the beaches of Apulia.

1974 Barbapapa (Ostuni Beach, 2020)

2) Barbapapa, 1974 (Ostuni Beach, 2020): One of the most symbolic finds by Archeoplastica is a 1974 Fabianplastica Barbapapa filled with encrustations created by marine organisms. Found in December 2020 on a beach on the Ostuni coast, it looks just like a work of art created by the sea. This find will probably be familiar to adults and children alike because even to this day the Barbapapa cartoon is broadcast on TV. The toy was initially made of soft rubber (which after fifty years has become very hard) and when pressed there was a whistle that sounded at the base. Ironically, Barbapapa is perhaps the first ecologist cartoon, and the found character is precisely that of Barbazoo, the naturalist who defended plants and animals. This Barbapapa has been displayed during several major events, such as the National Geographic exhibition, and can also be found reproduced in 3D on the Archeoplastica virtual museum site.

1960s Hunchback in Frac (Ostuni Beach, 2019)

3) Hunchback in Frac, 1960s (Ostuni Beach, 2019): This is one of the most mysterious finds in the Archeoplastica collection. Discovered in the winter of 2019 on a beach in Apulia, it was only after a year of research that it could be found in its original version by a French collector; it was red in color, which may also be the original color of the found hunchback.

After the Hunchback was shown during a news report on Italian networks, Archeoplastica was contacted by a couple of people who had one in yellow and one dating back to the 1960s, respectively. This led to the discovery that originally the hunchback found was wearing a top hat with a slit underneath, and that there was a whistle valve at the base. From this we can deduce that it was originally meant to be squeezed and make the valve sound, but now its plastic is too hard to be squeezed without causing dents. It is likely that the hunchback was inspired by the good luck figure of the Neapolitan hunchback, and that it was a sound toy that could also be used as a piggy bank. In fact, this figure in Neapolitan popular culture was considered the bearer of good luck and wealth.

1980s Tortellini Emiliani (Vasto Beach, 2020)

4) Tortellini Emiliani, 1980s (2020, Vasto Beach): this small package of Tortellini Emiliani dating back to the 1980s with the perfectly legible 20 lire discount represents one of the rarest and most original products found by Archeoplastica. The find occurred in 2020 at a beach in the province of Chieti, in the Italian region of Abruzzo. In all likelihood, the package remained hidden for a long time under the sand, protected from the ultraviolet rays of the sun, which allowed its partial preservation. One can still perfectly read all the details and the deadline stamped on the edge (June 1980).

On the back are the ingredients, instructions for use, and the recipe of the day for “tortellini gratinati”, dating back forty years. This makes us think that these tortellini were eaten more than forty years ago, but for plastic it is as if it were yesterday.

1970s WC NET (Po Delta Beach, 2020) & 2000s Albanian Bear Bottle (Salento, 2020)

5) WC NET, 1970s (2020, Po Delta Beach) & Albanian Bear Bottle, 2000s (Salento Beach, 2020): the WC NET is a historical find dated 1969, produced by the famous Mira Lanza, an Italian company that was born in the 1920s and made history as one of the earliest detergents of the 1960s. Among the most famous ones found by Archeoplastica are Kop Vetri (glass cleaner) and Ava Liquido (laundry product). At that time, with the WC NET bottle came a gift card and there was also a point collection program for various gifts. This bottle was found a stone’s throw from the marine protected area of Torre Guaceto.

The Albanian bear bottle, on the other hand, dates back 20 years at most but has a more mysterious past. The first ones collected were 500 ml, of which no trace can be found online, although it may be a distant relative of the Italian cleaning and home care brand “Coccolino”. From the web, however, it was discovered that a Dutch artist made an identical copy based on a bottle collected on the beach in Bari, Italy. These bottles were all found in Apulia and it was thought that the brand was not Italian. It was reported that one of these 2-liter pink-colored bears was found on the coast of Salento, on the label of which only the letter P was legible; this enabled the brand’s mystery to be solved, thanks to a person of Albanian origin with an uncle who owned a detergent store in Albania. The name of the brand is Prime Soft, and there is also a 2001 commercial on YouTube where the whole family of bear-bottles appears. The reason these bottles were found in Apulia is mainly related to the sea currents and the region’s proximity to the Albanian coast.

I found the exhibition itinerary incredibly fascinating, and I think it is important to raise awareness about the environmental waste that often emerges from seas and beaches. The issue of garbage that has emerged from the sea has been around for decades, and I have a clear memory of it from when I was a child and many objects were found on the beaches of Calabria, the homeland of my grandparents. Archeoplastica is concerned with unearthing these finds in a role very similar to that of the archaeologist, hence the name of the project.

Plastics are polymers, i.e., large molecules made up of smaller blocks, called monomers. Large molecules pack into space according to their structure and they exhibit widely varying macroscopic physical and chemical characteristics. These materials are suitable for the addition of substances, called additives, which can further modify their properties, both aesthetic and functional. Plastics can be colored, transparent, rigid, deformable, flexible, and more or less sensitive to heat.

The fundamental problem with plastics is that, because they are very resistant to deterioration, they cannot be dispersed into the environment because they would persist for many years, as we can see from the findings. Therefore, the possibility of disposing of these polymers in a proper manner, especially through recycling, turns out to be vital. This is often difficult because, for reasons related to properties and additives, this type of plastic does not lend itself well to this process. In recent years, new methods for recovering monomers to be used in new production are being designed, focusing on more ecologically and economically beneficial processes. Archeoplastica explains that “science and technology can provide the solutions to plastic pollution by developing recovery processes, such as recycling, giving new life to the waste product or developing new substitute materials.”

Archeoplastica’s temporary exhibition also presents a long excursus on the history of plastics from the 1920s (to which the first studies on the structure and properties of polymers date) to the present day, passing through the post-World War II period and the 1960s, a decade in which plastics emerged as an irreplaceable tool of everyday life and a new frontier in the fashion, art and design industries, helping to create the modern lifestyle. All of this is explained thoroughly during the exhibition and it is easily understandable by the audience; I find it truly educational for various age groups. If you are in Savona during the Easter holidays and are interested in visiting the Priamar Fortress, I strongly recommend that you also visit the Archeoplastica exhibition space because it’s really worth it.

Additional notes:

Special thanks go to the exhibition organizers and the entire Archeoplastica team, especially for the detailed explanations accompanying the objects displayed.

The Archeoplastica exhibition has free admission and can be visited at the Palazzo del Commissario of the Priamar Fortress in Savona every day until April 10, during 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. time slots. The exhibition’s main partners are First Corporation (at the forefront of plastic recycling), SAT Servizi Ambientali (waste collection service in the province of Savona and curator of awareness campaigns in favor of separate waste collection) and Corepla (national consortium for the collection, recycling and recovery of plastic packaging).

All pictures are my own.

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