Caught presented by Sam Elkind

Art show featuring photographs by Sam Elkind. Images highlight environmental tragedy through the lens of discarded plastics polluting New Mexico roadways.


This event has already happened.
Jul 10, 2021 09:00 AM - Sep 18, 2021 07:00 PM


Open Space Visitor Center
6500 Coors Blvd. NW
Albuquerque, NM 87120


About Sam Elkind

Sam Elkind is a life-long photographer living in Santa Fe, who works in black-and-white, especially with landscape and abstract imagery.  Sam learned photography as a youth in the 1970s, with training in darkroom techniques while an employee of a photo studio in Illinois.  He carried an enthusiasm for photography through the rest of his life.  He has studied with photographers Kent Bowser and Arno Rafael Minkkinen.  Sam earned an M.A. in English from the University of Virginia and a B.A. in English from Lawrence University (Appleton, WI).  He is a retired transportation professional.


A Perspective on One Environmental Tragedy

Consequences of human ingenuity play out in the story of the plastic bag. Plastics, derived from petroleum, are profoundly useful materials found in nearly every aspect of modern life. And yet the durability of this man-made substance surrounds us with plastic waste, often – but not only – bags.

How did we get here? The most common constituent of plastic bags is a polymer called high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which was invented in 1953. This polymer has the strength needed to serve as a meaningful component of grocery bags.

The plastic grocery bag was first created in Sweden by Sten Gustaf Thulin of the company Celloplast. According to his son, Thulin believed that plastic bags offered environmental benefits because they enabled bag production without requiring the cutting of forests to source wood pulp for paper bags.

Plastic grocery bags were adopted gradually. Within the U.S., some early tests in the 1970s evolved into more aggressive efforts to market these bags as superior to those made of paper. By 1982, two major grocery chains, Safeway and Kroger, adopted plastic bags for use by their shoppers.

High-density polyethylene is not the only polymer used for creating bags. Additional materials include:
• Medium density polyethylene (MDPE) – found in certain trash bags and consumer packagings.
• Low density polyethylene (LDPE) – used where tensile strength is not required, such as for bread, frozen food, fresh produce, or dry-cleaned garments.
• Linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) – used for garbage, food, newspapers similar applications.
• Poly propylene (PP) – good for applications that require sterilization at high temperatures, often use for food packaging such as with candies, cookies, nuts, etc.

There are fairly new plastic materials that are partially degradable (in ultra-violet light) or fully biodegradable. In some cases, processes break down the bulk of the material, while rendering small, lasting particles of plastic such as HDPE. Others, such as crop-derived materials, are fully biodegradable, although not necessarily equivalent in strength to more conventional plastics.

Plastic bags are capable of being reused and, with proper infrastructure, fully recycled. Indeed, current research seeks very efficient treatments to reduce plastics within hours to polymers that could be reused in manufacturing new materials. But plastic bags are created at an almost unbelievable rate of over 1 million units per minute. The se bags are also light and easily carried away by wind and water. Recycling efforts cannot keep up.


Caught presented by Sam Elkind



Christine Vasquez