“This is a really popular magazine in France,” she says. “It says,
‘Art can save the planet.’”
Creating awareness of the issue is not enough. At the intersection
of research science and repurposed art, her mission is to educate
“In 2012, I put in an application for nonprofit status,” she says.
“I wanted to pay it forward to young people and give them the
opportunity to study this issue. They’re the ones with the greatest
opportunity to create the change we need.”
Further business ideas with great economic prospects abound
for Plastic Ocean Project and the repurposing of plastic trash.
Most particularly, using the refuse as a fuel source instead of con-tinuing
rid of it.
“We had two business students come up with the idea of turning
the plastic into paraffin and taking it to 17 candle companies that
are operating right here in North Carolina,” she says. “Another idea
was to take smaller reactors to the island nations who have nowhere
to put the plastic trash and give them the ability to turn it into
economically viable products. That’s what we are researching now.”
When she started in 2012, the notion of banning plastic straws
and grocery bags was a fringe idea, but now she’s at the forefront of
a movement and doing much more than getting restaurants to stop
using plastic straws and to-go containers.
The impetus for the nonprofit came when Monteleone was
defending her thesis while pursuing a master’s in Humanities at
the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. At 48, she was a
“I was working in the chemistry department and going back to
school,” she says. “Really my goal was to be a scientific writer. My
background is in communications with a minor in studio art. I’m
not a scientist at all; the farthest thing from it. But I had the curios-ity
of wanting to learn about this issue.”
Her thesis was titled Plastic Ocean Project, and included plastic
trash she personally had collected from the oceans.
“Someone asked me in the audience after defending my thesis,
‘What are you going to do with all that trash?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,
maybe turn it into art,’” she says.
Her stunning re-imagination of the woodblock print “The Great
Wave” by Japanese artist Hokusai, formed out of collected oceanic
plastics, was a huge hit. The iconic wave ensconced in trash was a
stark statement piece and made a massive impact around the world.
It was featured on music album covers and in magazines, composer
programs and textbooks.
“Art speaks volumes,” she says. “One piece is worth a thousand
The piece is on the cover of a French magazine, framed and
hanging on her office wall.
the endless lifecycle of recycling and never fully getting