Turning Trash into Something Beautiful: How Artists Richard and Judith Lang Fight Plastic Pollution

 “Judith is absolutely the most generous, open-arms-to-the-world person. But when we’re out on the beach looking for trash, she is ruthless (laughs).

“No, no! That’s not true!”

“She’ll find a beautiful piece of plastic, look back at me, and just wag it in my face!”

Teasing aside, Richard and Judith truly enjoy their fierce competitions to find the “rarest” piece of plastic on the sand. In fact, it’s their way of making up for lost time together.

On their first date in 1999, Richard and Judith discovered something startling: for the last three years, they’d both been combing North Bay beaches for plastic trash, turning their hauls into artwork – without ever crossing paths.

They’ve now spent just under 20 years scouring the same 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach together. Richard says there’s a good reason why they rival each other to find the most compelling plastic. “One has to make a game of this … or you could fall into a deep pit of despair.”

Indeed, “despair” got them started in this line of work. Judith was teaching art at the College of Marin, and she often ate her lunch on a bench facing Richardson Bay. But she was saddened to find the “lovely view of San Francisco” obscured by “plastic debris that would wash in.” One day, Judith started collecting some of that plastic and turning it into art – her way of transforming waste into something beautiful.

Richard had his “a-ha” moment when he was building a nine-foot sculpture out of aluminum for his M.F.A project at the University of Wisconsin. “At the end of it, I was in great despair because the U.S. had just celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970, and I attended at the National Mall, and I was aware of what was going on in the planet, and I thought: ‘I’m using all these materials — for what?’”

Now, like Save The Bay’s plucky Restoration team, Richard and Judith brave “blazing heat and blistering cold” as they work to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the way they know best. The couple also embodies Save The Bay’s spirit of collaboration, hashing out every idea until they feel strongly about the same vision. Judith admits this can entail a bit of “stomping around the house,” but the end result is well worth a little tension: “we both sign our names on every single piece we make.”

Their teamwork certainly bears fruit: the couple’s artwork has been showcased in more than 70 exhibitions across galleries, museums, and educational centers. During Save The Bay’s Bay Day celebration last year, the Langs donated a big pile of plastic so that people of all ages could try their hand at turning trash into art. Judith and Richard were delighted to hear that: “people took to it immediately – no instruction needed.”

Judith and Richard are always glad to see these scraps transform, as the artists believe deeply: “if you don’t give style to something painful, you’re just going to depress yourself.” Indeed, humor has been the driving force in their work on plastic pollution.

As Judith puts it, “we joke that we’re the world’s smallest NGO and we’re not even that well-organized. We’re just people who’ve devoted their lives to 1,000 yards of beach.”

 

From Dodging Cows to Driving Policy: Meet Jody London, Bay Role Model

Jody at Save The Bay restoration event

“There was a dairy ranch between my house and the middle school. I had to cut through the field every day, and on foggy mornings, I would sometimes not see the cows until they were just a few feet away.”

But Jody London was only dodging cows as an eighth grader. The following year, that San Jose ranch turned into a subdivision. Our former Board President says she couldn’t help but wonder: “where all those cows went.”

With development more and more on her mind, Jody refined her writing skills, reporting for her high school newspaper and majoring in English at UC Berkeley. All the while, she was “finding a way to use those communication skills for a higher purpose.”

Soon after college, Jody found her foothold in environmentalism, “working with the EPA on Superfund sites, one involving mercury in the Guadalupe River” running through San Jose. However, like Save The Bay’s courageous women founders, Jody wanted to drive change – not watch as others made the tough calls.

“As a consultant for the EPA, I would submit my best work to the decision-maker, who would modify it. One day, I thought: ‘I want to be the decision-maker.’” That’s when Jody turned the tables, earning a master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University and starting a job with the California Public Utilities Commission.

Jody’s favorite view, Claremont Hotel

Jody says her work on Save The Bay’s Board (1999-2008) profoundly shaped her leadership style. “I think a lot about [Save The Bay founders] Sylvia, Esther, Kay, and their willingness to keep pushing: ‘you don’t wanna do this? Who else do I talk to’?” Jody says Executive Director David Lewis served as quite the model of tenacity.

“For Measure AA, David had that vision for 15 years and just kept working on it. He would let it go and pick it up again, putting pieces in place over a very long time, drawing on all the resources he could. It was brilliant.”

Jody showed similar patience – and persuasion – fighting to reduce plastic pollution as an Oakland School Board member. The goal: get Styrofoam out of school lunches. “I did my research and figured out where the contract was, and I framed the issue very simply to my colleagues on the School Board before our vote: ‘look, there’s a giant patch of garbage in the Pacific, and you don’t want to contribute to that.’” They got the message: Styrofoam was banned in a 6-1 vote.  

As Sustainability Coordinator with Contra Costa County, Jody now spends much of her time working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — also a focus area of Save The Bay’s Bay Smart Communities vision. She’s promoting idle-free driving as a simple first step for everyone behind the wheel.

Volunteers from Temple Beth Abraham

But Jody doesn’t stop at steering policy campaigns; she’s also empowering the next generation of environmental advocates. For more than 15 years, our former Board Member has been bringing young people from her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham, out to the wetlands for volunteer events.

The groups have pulled non-native plants, collected seeds from our nurseries, and removed harmful trash from the shoreline. Jody says it’s been really rewarding to “see Arrowhead Marsh change, with the growth of native plants – what a feeling of accomplishment.”

In true Save The Bay style, Jody says the collaborative aspect is the most invigorating part: “the satisfaction comes in how you were able to bring other people along with you, so they understand the environmental issue and how important it is.”

***We are thrilled to feature Jody and other Bay role models at a special event honoring Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis on August 30 in San Francisco. Learn more at sfbayactionfund.org.

Spotting Turkeys, Shaping Tech: Meet the Bay Heroes of IBM

“I’ve been hiking the hills around here lately with co-workers, and we see a lot of turkeys.”

In the beginning, these birds came as quite a surprise to Danielle. She’d never spotted them on the sidewalks of New York City, her home before she started a job at IBM’s Silicon Valley Lab. Danielle would soon find that this tech campus, tucked away in hills south of San Jose, also boasted a bird nesting program and a butterfly garden.

Not surprisingly, Save The Bay sensed a kindred spirit from the start in IBM, a key Bay Day sponsor.

Thanks to IBM’s generosity, thousands of people will be able to celebrate San Francisco Bay at dozens of events across the region this Bay Day – October 6, 2018. In its third year, Bay Day seeks to empower everyone to #BeaBayHero and protect our breathtaking home.

More than 100 IBM employees did just that at a recent restoration event on the SVL campus. In two hours, these dedicated volunteers transplanted more than 5,000 seedlings – a major step toward building wildlife habitat.  Along the way, we chatted with many of the Bay Heroes who make up IBM: employees and interns with an equal passion for nature and technology.

We hope they inspire you to DIG IN at restoration events, tour a historic harbor at Portfest, register to VOTE for our Bay, explore 50+ community events, or DONATE to protect our home for generations – this Bay Day and beyond. Learn more at www.BayDay.org. Meet:



Juan 

Like Save The Bay, Juan believes small steps can make a major difference in reducing pollution.

“At home, I always tell my little sisters to fill up their water bottles and reuse them – not to buy plastic ones and toss them, because that hurts the environment.”



Sushmita 

Sushmita  believes deeply that we must be the voice for vulnerable wildlife. She’s right with Save The Bay in encouraging people to Iearn how their health and our health are intertwined!  

“The web of life — animals, people, plants — we all are a part of it. The more people go for walks and see the rarity of certain species, the more they’ll use their voice to protect them.”



Natalie 

Natalie takes after Save The Bay in bringing diverse communities together to protect the environment. She’s amazed by the connections people make volunteering outdoors.

“It gets people out of their hustle and bustle of the lab and pressure of the lab, talking about different things. Somebody might not realize, ‘hey, we both love to garden.’”



Vamseedhar 

Just as Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis enjoys walking his dog by the shoreline, IBM’s Vamseedhar is also convinced: outdoor spaces refresh us! He finds them key to his work-life balance.

“Nature gives you piece of mind. It gives you good sleep at night. Computers don’t do that. (laughs). It’s why people should have a mix of being indoors with tech and outdoors with nature.”

We couldn’t agree more with Vamseedhar! Bay Day, after all, is about celebrating San Francisco Bay – its people, wildlife, and remarkable natural beauty. That’s why food trucks, live music, and kayak trips are just part of the fun in store for Bay Heroes on October 6th! We’re so grateful to IBM for making all of this possible.

How can your company show its true Bay Hero colors and sponsor BAY DAY like IBM?

Learn more at BayDay.org/

Want to be a BAY HERO and support Bay Day today?

DONATE

Garden Club of America Honors Save The Bay

Executive Director David Lewis is quick to praise the Garden Club of America, a volunteer non-profit, for its perseverance protecting the environment. “Garden clubs have a long history of involvement in conservation. They made a huge push to advocate for the creation of the Clean Water Act, and their members have continued to be leading advocates in local communities.”

The GCA made clear recently: this admiration is mutual. Save The Bay has earned one of the Garden Club of America’s highest honors, the Cynthia Pratt Laughlin Medal for “outstanding achievement in environmental protection and the maintenance of the quality of life.”

In a recent newsletter, the GCA touched on six decades of Save The Bay’s history, highlighting why the organization deserved national recognition. Writer Karen Gilhuly of the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club starts the story in 1961, when Save The Bay’s three women founders, Sylvia McLaughlin, Kay Kerr, and Esther Gulick, charted a new course in environmentalism.

Gilhuly illustrates how their move to organize around preventing Bay fill “quickly became a model for others fighting to protect natural habitats in urban environments. Up until this time, conservation efforts had largely focused on protecting remote areas of wilderness and creating our natural parks.”

Save The Bay’s groundbreaking partnerships didn’t go under the radar, either. Gilhuly highlights the 1965 launch of Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), “made up of representatives from private, public and non-profit sectors.”

Uniting diverse interests, the BCDC “inspired other organizations to spring up across the United States to protect critical bodies of water.” In 1995, Save The Bay once again demonstrated a collaborative spirit, partnering with eight Bay-oriented organizations to form Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE). To this day, RAE “brings more than 1,000 students, activists and citizens together every other year to share best practices.”

The Garden Club of America also championed Save The Bay for its political effectiveness. Gilhuly sheds light on two of our most successful collaborations: banning single-use plastic bags across California and advancing a historic parcel tax to bring $500M in Bay restoration funding over 20 years.

By chance, this national recognition from the Garden Club of America coincides with David Lewis’s 20th Anniversary as Save The Bay’s Executive Director. David says he’s humbled to build on the work of our brave women founders, and moved to see Save The Bay awarded for: “decades of dedication to the protection of San Francisco Bay from industrialization, pollution, and shoreline development.”

He was also inspired by fellow GCA awardees, environmental advocates such as Former First Lady Laura Bush, honored for her work preserving national parks. In the end, David says he was especially grateful to be recognized by the GCA as “garden clubs really are kindred spirits to Save The Bay because they appreciate – and preserve – natural beauty.”

Behind the Scenes of Bay Day: Looking Back and Gearing Up!

As a Marin County native, I can’t help but appreciate rolling hills, towering redwoods, and vibrant wildflowers. I grew up hiking Mount Tamalpais, and I’ve always loved reaching its peak and looking out at San Francisco Bay.

With these memories in mind, I started a full-time job at Save The Bay last summer after graduating college with an Environmental Studies degree. I was excited to find out that Save The Bay had created an official, region-wide holiday dedicated to celebrating San Francisco Bay, its people and wildlife. I was even more thrilled to learn that I would be heavily involved in planning… Bay Day!

As the weeks flew by, I found it rewarding to translate my college coursework into on-the-ground advocacy for SF Bay. I reached out to local businesses and organizations to spread the word about Bay Day. I packed boxes, loaded trucks, and organized materials to ensure our Bay-saving team was ready to go for the big day.

All that work paid off when October rolled around. On Bay Day 2017, I was so inspired to watch families learn together about the issues affecting our Bay. I was and still am proud that our dedicated staff, volunteers, community partners, and sponsors hosted more than 70 activities across nine Bay Area counties.

This Bay Day, we’re inspiring the Bay Hero in everyone and will recognize Bay Heroes who protect our Bay in extraordinary ways. We will also encourage Bay Area residents to register to VOTE to make their voice heard at the ballot box this November. And, it wouldn’t be Bay Day without an opportunity to DIG IN at one of our restoration events.

Check out our full events calendar and mark your calendars for Saturday, October 6. I hope you will join us in celebrating our beautiful Bay!