There’s tons of plastic polluting the ocean. A UAA professor hopes her book can show kids how to fix it.

Herminia Din stands with Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean. An exhibit on the project debuts in September. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

Herminia Din’s purse is made of grocery bags.

Inside, she has a ton of reusable items, from a metal straw to a foldable water cup. She takes recycling and reusing very seriously.

In her work as a University of Alaska Anchorage art professor, Din expressed her passion for conservation first in a project called Junk to Funk — an effort to make functional items out of what you’d otherwise throw away.

“We do a lot of aluminum cans, turn that into candle-holders,” Din said. “We do scarves. Old T-shirts, like one you would wear, we can just shred it and turn it into a beautiful scarf.”

Her latest project: Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean. It’s a pop-up book that walks kids through what happens to the junk that doesn’t become funk.

There’s a lot of plastic in the ocean. As it floats around, it breaks down into tiny particles that get into everything from fish to sea salt. If you eat seafood caught near Alaska, there’s a good chance you’ve ingested tiny bits of plastic.

Explaining that fact to kids might come off as off-putting or depressing, but while the book shows the hard truth about pollution, it also shows kids what they can do to change it.

“I thought it was an important topic, so how can I translate the scientific data into visual images,” Din said.

Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean is split into two halves. One details the pollution in the ocean. The second details how kids can solve the problem. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

The book is split into two parts. The first half, Our Plastic Ocean, shows the journey that plastic makes as it moves from the cities to the oceans. It starts in the city and as readers turn the pages, the plastic begins to move into ocean ecosystems. Din says different pop-ups on the pages reveal all the places that plastic gets into.

“So, the storyline continues, and you can see the plastics. They never dissolve. They just break, from the visible to a microplastic,” Din said. “So continuing now, the fish eat what’s coming from the ocean. You can see the whales eating it. A lot of trash on the shores. And then we caught the fish, and the fish becomes our food, and it comes with a lot of plastic.”

The end of the first half ends with a fish on a dinner plate. A fish that has eaten microplastics, being served with sea salt that has been polluted with microplastics. It’s a pretty stark image.

However, that’s not where the book ends. Flipping the pop-up book to the other side reveals, Our Clean Ocean, showing a beautiful blue marine ecosystem.

A new art exhibit at the University of Alaska Anchorage highlights Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean. (Photo by Wesley Early, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)

“It’s the beautiful ocean. You can see birds flying,” Din said. “But before we get there, the first thing we have to do is to stop using plastic. Bring your own bags for shopping and then continue recycling.”

To be clear, Din doesn’t think we need to stop using all plastics.

“I’m not a plastic-free or zero waste person,” Din said. “But I do advocate to reduce and stop using single-use plastic. That’s the first step.”

At the end of the day, Din wants kids to understand that the ocean is heavily polluted, but by being advocates for the environment, they can help fix it.

“I just want to show people, we have this beautiful environment, beautiful ocean, this beautiful Earth. Keep it that way,” Din said.

Din says she’s previewed the book to kids around the state and is already getting promising reactions.

Our Plastic Ocean, Our Clean Ocean is set to come out later this winter.

An art exhibit highlighting the project opens Tuesday, Sept. 3 until Friday, Oct. 4 at UAA’s Kimura Gallery in the Fine Arts Building.