A small look at a big problem

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Eduardo Leal photographed plastic bags that are polluting the Bolivian Altiplano

He hopes the images will make people take a second look at their own habits

CNN  — 

In 2010, the Guinness Book of World Records named the plastic bag the “most ubiquitous consumer item” in the world, with trillions made every year.

Unfortunately, many of them are not recycled.

Plastic bags can be found everywhere on the planet, from the very top of Mount Everest to the deep depths of the oceans, photographer Eduardo Leal said. And Leal’s “Plastic Trees” photos, shot on the Bolivian Altiplano plateau, further illustrate this global environmental concern.

“The series is called ‘Plastic Trees,’ but actually they are little bushes. … I turned them into trees (by) photographing from a low angle,” Leal said. “Turning little bushes into big trees was to show the size of the problem.”

The photos were all shot at sunset, resulting in a captivating consistency and organic golden glow. By photographing a grave issue in a visually aesthetic manner, Leal challenges viewers to consider their own treatment toward the environment.

Photographer Eduardo Leal

“Sometimes when it’s a problem, we tend to shout,” he said. “We tend to show gritty images, show the ugliest of things. … People look (at) them and they turn the page or change the webpage.

“I tried to create beauty, because maybe with beauty people will look at (the photos) for more time and maybe they will question themselves.”

What makes Leal’s photos so revealing is the fact that there are no people around. It shows that while the bags may have been discarded long ago, they never completely disappear.

“The plastic bag, in a way, can be a metaphor and be applied to many things that people throw away – from the stick of a lollipop to a sandal or a little bottle,” Leal said. “Because people sometimes don’t think about their actions. If no one thinks, then that’s when there will be a problem.”

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    Leal grew up in a family that taught him the importance of treating the environment with care. Today, he continues to make conscious efforts to do his part – such as recycling and taking quick showers.

    “I obviously do things that probably are not the best thing for the environment – everyone does. For example, I fly a lot. … We all have our part of guilt,” Leal said. “I try to do as much as I can because, what kind of world (are) we (going) to leave to the next generations if we don’t start trying to do our best?”

    Leal acknowledges that plastic bag pollution might be the result of weak waste management infrastructures and a lack of education about how to take care of the environment. With his photos, he wants to create awareness of this environmental concern, and he ultimately hopes people will realize that small changes in their behavior can produce large, positive results.

    “Plastic bags – as small as they are, as light as they are, as cheap as they are, as useful as they are – they are a big problem,” Leal said. “I will not change the world because I’m recycling, but I’m doing my part. And if everyone thinks like that, then we will have a change.”

    Eduardo Leal is a Portuguese photographer. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.