Surrounded by a sea of green grass and trees stands a monster at Hammonton Lake Park.
This beast at its highest point is approximately 10 feet tall, is 15 feet wide, is covered in plastic bags and has been in existence since October of last year.
It is a symbol of change.
The Leviathan is its name — an octopus made out of plastic bags — and it has served its purpose now that the single-use plastic bag ban is in effect, said Dan Bachalis, chair of the Hammonton Environmental Commission.
“The whole idea was intended to educate people about what I call the scourge of single-use plastic bags, single-use plastics in general and tout alternatives to using individual single-use bags,” he said this past Monday evening as the beast loomed over him.
Named after an ancient sea monster, the Leviathan is framed with wood, its body made out of chicken wire covered with thousands of plastic bags. The idea came from grade school students of the Kienzle family who wanted Hammonton to be a more sustainable community and to do something about the use of plastic bags.
They had an idea about a half-octopus half-dragon sculpture that was so compelling that Bachalis said they had to make it happen.
The Hamilton Environmental Commission applied and received a $500 grant from the Atlantic County Utilities Authority to help fund the idea.
Local artist Don Swenson came up with a design and the Leviathan was soon born into existence.
The pandemic slowed down the assembly and it took all of 2020 and half of 2021 for members of the environmental commission, Hammonton Green Committee, local Mormon Church missionaries and community volunteers to put it together, said Bachalis.
Plastic bags, that are securely attached, make up the body. Plastic plates make up the eyes, and rolled yellow plastic bags and plastic lids are used for the suckers. Its mouth is plastic yogurt cups.
It was first seen at the town’s 2021 Green Day Festival in October and was moved to the park where it is more visible to the abundance of foot traffic.
It’s there that the Leviathan stands out, its white plastic body in contrast with the green that surrounds it.
Earlier in the week a curious family slowly approached the beast not sure what to make of it, trying to peer inside through the plastic eyes.
‘It’s not a see-through window, sorry,” Bachalis told the family with a slight chuckle. “It catches everybody by surprise.”
People can walk into the body of the monster from the back where there are brochures with information about the plastic bag ban. There is even a QR code that will take them to the Hammonton Green Committee website for additional information.
He said he has watched families, individual adults and children walk over and study the octopus, eventually going inside its belly to read the material.
“It’s had an impact,” he said, about the awareness it has brought to the town.
Bachalis has had his own ban on plastic bags since attending college in Boston. He explained that during his undergraduate years there was a lot of earth consciousness going around and he realized the environment needed to be the number one priority.
“If the economy falters, the environment will continue, but if the environment falters, all bets are off. Nothing’s going to happen good for humanity if the environment fails.”
He has been using the same white with blue trim canvas bag today, though the handles are a little frayed, that he has been using since 1973. He uses it for groceries, clothes and other store-related runs.
“I’ve kind of trained myself to have reusable bags handy as much as possible.”
Bachalis believes that over the past 50 years we have tremendously improved how we deal with the environment and that the single-use plastic ban is long overdue.
“We’re still stinking it up, really terribly,” he said, citing the untested and undisclosed plastics that enter our environment every year.
The ban is one example of how “we’ve got at least one more peg up on treating the environment.”
But there is still work to be done to get away from the throwaway mentality, he said. There are opportunities to reuse everyday things — bread bags for cat litter and bring your own takeout container when you go out to eat.
“Individual efforts are really important,” he said, even though they may have a small impact. On the larger scale, it’s the consciousness he hopes will give rise to lead people to take action at the higher levels.
He encourages people to speak up if they have an idea and get involved just like the Kienzles family did. If not for them the monster wouldn’t have been born.
“People in the environmental community will be listening.”
The Leviathan’s life at the park is coming to an end now that the ban is in effect. In a month or so it will be disassembled and the bags will be recycled for use in other things.
But while it remains Bachalis said it will be a reminder to people that the ban is now here — so get with it.
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Tim Hawk may be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tim on Instagram @photog_hawk.