The Conscious Cup

By Kristin Sander.

On the 15th of September 2018 thousands of runners were passing the city and were realizing their goal for which they had trained for a long time: finishing a 42.2km race. The Oslo marathon took place. On this day, everything had be perfect for the runners so that nothing came in the way of reaching the goal. Many people were applauding the runners, music was playing and all runners were catered in certain distances with water, tea, energizing drinks, bananas, energy bars and other treats.

A water station of the Oslo marathon struck my particular attention. At the stations, runners could get some water to refresh themselves. Kids gave them small cups that were made of a mixture of plastic and cardboard. Each jogger used the water to drink it while moving forward, some even just poured out the water over their head. After holding the cups in their hand for often less than ten seconds, the runners thoughtlessly threw their cups away. They landed on the streets around the water station, next to them and a few of them in the provided containers. A girl tried to collect some of the cups by using a rake. But the majority of them were not only laying next to the water station, but also further down the streets.

In today’s challenging times, there is no lack of such problems and most of them are caused by the humans themselves. Never in the history of the earth had a single species such a huge impact on the globe and the environment. Humans can determine how other species are living on the earth. Some scientists even refer to the current geological epoch as the Anthropocene, because the impact of human activities on the environment have outpaced natural processes. The humans have become a significant geological force through the extreme land use, the deforestation or the burning of fossil fuels (Cruntzen 2006, p. 13).

One of the major problems that are caused by humans today is the immense damage to the nature through the single use of resources, in particular plastic. Many products which are part of our daily life are just used once and then we throw them away. Examples can be one-way cups, straws, packaging, cutlery, bottles, bags etc. The question arises, if the effort of sourcing resources for the products, producing and distributing them just as disposing, recycling and reproducing them is really worth it, when the product is often used just for a fraction of a moment and afterwards thrown away. The single usage of products represents one of the most inefficient ways of using the resources our earth provides.

In addition, there are many negative side effects that can be associated with the single use of resources. According to the Seas at Risk foundation, only from EU countries every year an estimated 100,000 tonnes of plastic end up in the sea from coastal land areas (for this paragraph: Seas at Risk 2017, p. 4). The research for example indicated that single-use plastics make up on average 49% of the beach litter in all four European Regional Seas Areas. The extent of the usage of one-way used plastics is extreme: only in the European Union, the citizens consume 16bn coffee cups, 2.5bn units of takeaway packaging and 36.4bn drinking straws every year. The Seas at Risk foundation comes to the conclusion that “drastically reducing [the] consumption of these key single-use plastic items would effectively eliminate a major source of marine pollution in all of Europe’s seas” (Seas at Risk 2017, p. 4).

Standing next to the water station and seeing so many different reactions and emotions of the runners, I took many pictures and had an idea. Seeing these scenes, I strongly got the feeling that this was the ideal representation of a trend that is shaping the environment in a negative way today: the single use of resources. I used these impressions I won to produce a picture featuring the word WHY, representing the need to reflect about this behavior. I believe that constantly asking oneself the question “Why?” makes sense. Pausing for a moment and reflecting about own behavior should be part of all of our daily lives.

Photos and collage by Kristin Sander

Arguably, making art is a deeply human characteristic. Already the humans living in the stone age produced creative work made from shell, stone or paint. For example, landscape paintings that aimed at motivating people to think about the beauty of the nature or the greatness of a certain god. Since then, art has continued to change the lives of individuals. From my point of view, the purpose of art is not only to produce a certain product like a painting or an installation, art can be a catalyst for human thinking. Contemporary art often tries to trigger individuals to reflect about issues regarding society, life or love.

Nowadays, art is often viewed as socially conscious criticism. Art allows us “to share meaning and to transform values” (Davis 2015, p.3) According to “Art & Death: Lives Between the Fifth Assessment & the Sixth Extinction” art has become a neccessary part of cultural life in the society that needs to tackle art major societal, political, economic or environmental problems. Heather Davis is looking on the poor side of life and sees art as a way out of people’s suffering. In the beginning of the text he asks the question if “in the face of exploitation, brutality, and impoverishment, shouldn’t art address human suffering and struggle?” (Davis 2015, p.3) Plastic and one way products like the cups they were used at the marathon are shaping our earth in a negative way today. We need to constantly ask “Why?” Perhaps art can bring us closer to an answer.


Cruntzen, P. J. (2006): The Anthropocene, in: Ehlers E.; Krafft T. (Eds.): Earth System Science in the Anthropocene, Berlin et al. 2006, pp. 13-18.

Davis, H., & Turpin, E. (2015). Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters among aesthetics, politics, environments and epistemologies (p. 416). Open Humanities Press.

Seas at Risk (2017): Single use plastics and the marine environment: Leverage points for reducing single-use plastics, Project report, URL: (last online access: 18 September 2018).