A silent monstrosity has taken up residence at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. It’s hard to imagine that in a city of about 800,000 souls the vast majority choose to turn a blind eye to the atrocity when they visit this fabled, wild and dangerous stretch of coastline. Aaron Hazelwood, plumber, skater, and plastic hater, just may be this monster’s closest companion and biggest foe.
Aaron’s improbable odyssey began simply enough, walking his dog at the beach. As he used his palm to smooth over some sand to make a place to sit down, he grazed over a buried hypodermic needle. He picked it up, relieved to not have been cut, and looked around him. Plastic garbage was strewn all over. Were there more? His place of peace and reflection suddenly felt dangerous. He went home, picked up a rake and headed back to clean up: straws, cheese spreaders, tire caps, toothbrushes, bottle caps, army men, bubble blowers, shotgun shells. This was the moment that touched off his tireless, solo campaign.
This humble, accidental activist is a man who cares deeply about the coastline, neatly sorting his finds into orderly buckets, baskets and drawers. Sometimes he’ll take select pieces from his collection to create assemblages for friends and post to Instagram. Rather than falling into a trap of despair over the constant flow of new waste washing up, Aaron draws on irony, optimism, creativity and a penchant for finding small treasures (he’s particularly fond of the Army Men) to transform a desperate environmental issue into his own personal story of triumph over the day-to-day heaviness of life. Through this process, one of the more wondrous facets of humanity emerges — the ability to transform a desperate environmental problem into a narrative through action, art, and dedication to a cause.
“When I found out he was a local skater with an ardent interest in the ocean health, I knew I had to find out more. Aaron’s version of inspiring change exemplifies the term ‘grassroots.’ Coming forward with art enables more people from more communities to relate to the plastics issue,”says Carolynn Box, Director of Environmental Programs at The 5 Gyres Institute. Box was moved by Aaron Hazelwood the first time she saw his art at a small fundraising event in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset.”
“There are so many simple, positive actions that each of us can take to contribute to the movement. Every single person who contributes, whether it’s avoiding single use plastic products, picking up trash at the beach, talking about the issue with their friends, or signing a petition to ban plastic microbeads or plastic bags is helping others recognize that our world has an obsession with plastic that is harming our oceans.”
In Aaron’s case, he’s become something of a community leader. Many of the people that are following him on Instagram and see his photos are moved by his art and actions. When you see someone like Aaron who is so original and positive and leading change, you can’t help to feel inspired to take action.