Plastic Paper explores the “urban flotsam” of plastic bag design culture in New York City2 min read

You might wonder what on earth is fascinating about the humble plastic bag. But a new book out tomorrow is celebrating its design whilst encouraging us to take greater care of the planet.

Author Sho Shibuya – who also runs Brooklyn studio, Placeholder – dreamt up the idea after he moved to New York in 2011. Seeing the amount of plastic bags littering the city streets, he became fascinated by the range of designs, particularly those that seem to share recurring motifs.

Plastic Paper is a 144-page book of iconic photography by Vanessa Granda and Henry Hargreaves cataloguing their discoveries, collected over nearly seven years.

“The single-use plastic bag has become a canvas for a range of anonymous expressions of design,” says author Sho. “You see them hanging from the handlebars of every delivery person’s electrified bike. They’re snarled in the leafless trees. They’re wrapped around cyclists’ leather saddles.

“The smiley face bag, the quintuple Thank You, the purple flowers; these are as much a piece of the visual landscape of the city as Milton Glaser’s I Love New York or Massimo Vignelli’s subway map. And while this book is focused on New York City, cities from Tokyo to Terre Haute have their own language of mundane iconography, and we encourage you to pay attention to them, to investigate their history and discover the story they tell.”

But Plastic Paper isn’t just a celebration of graphic design through the ages and how classic images have been repurposed again and again. This is about highlighting the issue of single-use plastics and how they are destroying our environment.

“It is no secret that single-use plastic bags are choking our cities and our planet. This book is not an exercise to advocate for wasteful plastics; it is quite the opposite,” adds Sho. “It is an act of preservation of everyday design and a call to give greater care to the objects we use every day, to reuse them and waste less, and to find happiness and inspiration in the little acts of art and creativity we’d otherwise miss.”

Anna Roberts

Anna Roberts

Anna Roberts

Anna Roberts

As part of the project, artist Anna Roberts has recreated several of Vanessa Granda’s photographs of plastic bags, turning them into paintings. Limited edition prints will be available at the project’s NYC official launch at Court Street Grocers, LaGuardia Place in Manhattan.

All proceeds for Plastic Paper will go to Parley. The book officially launches online tomorrow. Follow what’s happening and purchase your own copy at from 14 March.