A Japanese ballet troupe is highlighting plastic pollution in its latest production.
Dressed in tutus made from bubble wrap, the dancers twirl between towering walls of recycled bottles and transparent umbrellas.
More than 10,000 plastic bottles rescued from Tokyo-based waste management company Shirai Eco Center are used in the set and costumes for K-Ballet’s ‘Plastic’ show.
Why are Japanese ballet dancers wearing plastic costumes?
The ballet's producer, Taiju Takano, 27, says the performance resonates with the traditional Japanese idea of ‘mottainai’, which conveys a sense of regret over waste.
In the past, it was thought that the spirit of a mistreated and discarded object "would come back to haunt us," he says.
Last November, Takano joined set designer Naoya Sakata in rummaging through bins in Tokyo’s Harajuku fashion district to find props for their show. In doing this, Sakata says he realised that the amount of plastic thrown away every day was "shocking.”
The dance company hopes to bring awareness to the “huge problem” of plastic pollution, says US guest star Julian MacKay, who usually dances with Germany’s Bavarian State Ballet. "[This issue] hadn't been highlighted by the dance world until now."
He believes drawing attention to environmental issues through performing arts can inspire people to act. "When you take a medium like ballet or dance and mix it with recycling or upcycling, you get people thinking, 'What else can I do, what else works?'"
So far, the approach seems to be working. "These dancers highlighting the issue of plastic waste made me realise that this problem was also mine," Ayumi Kisaki, a 30-year-old actress, said after watching the performance.
K-Ballet also teamed up with Shirai Eco Center, whose recycled bottles were used to write ‘Party people’ in huge letters above the stage.
The result is visually stunning “[There’s] a certain beauty when the lights come through these bottles, creating something that seems almost celestial,” says MacKay.
K-Ballet wants to keep the costumes and props for at least a year in the hopes of being able to perform again, after which they will be recycled.
How big is the plastic waste problem?
Single-use plastic is a big problem in Japan, where food products, including fruit, are often individually wrapped.
However, Japan produces less plastic waste than the average European country, and three times less than the USA, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The country also collects and recycles more plastic than many other countries, although this is often ‘thermal recycling’ where waste is incinerated to produce energy.
Globally, plastic waste has doubled in the last 20 years, and only nine per cent of it is successfully recycled.
The UN estimates that the amount of plastic dumped into the oceans will nearly triple by 2040.