G-Cubes: Raising global awareness on environmental pollution

Monday, April 29, 2019

TAISM students got to work with the environmentalist Harald Reichenbach as part of our many activities on Earth Day. They collected garbage and pressed it into sculptures called G-Cubes. An article in the Oman Observer explains Mr. Reichenbach's project and the story behind G-Cubes.

Harald Reichenbach is a man with a mission; an artist raising awareness about pollution of the world’s oceans. Harald — or Harry as he likes to be called — has been in Oman for two weeks already, having sailed around the world from Marseilles via Australia, and has been holding workshops in schools and communities in the capital before continuing his circumnavigation.

Harry was a professional painter, living a comfortable life in the Swiss city of Bern. All was going well for the artist until a couple of things tweaked his conscience and catapulted him out of his comfort zone into another world — literally — to initiate an NGO. It concerned Harry that Art had begun to lose sight of its values and merits as early as the 19th century, but now had reached a point of élitism where ‘objects d’art’ had become all about the (Artist’s) name, the price and big investments. It also concerned him that at the same time the Swiss government decided to ban the building of Islamic minarets as a result of a popular vote, but which to Harry looked like ridiculous democracy gone mad. Since 2007 Harald Reichenbach started to make socio-political statements through his art.

Five years ago Reichenbach was invited to sail from Gibraltar to the Caribbean by some friends in exchange for one of his works. He had never sailed before but needing some time out was grateful for the opportunity to take a break from painting. It wasn’t a long trip; a week to the Canaries and seventeen transatlantic days to St Lucia. While he was travelling he saw much pollution, in the sea and on the island shores: plastic bottles, Styrofoam, fishing nets and plastic ropes, scarring the islands’ beauty and defiling the ocean.

What could Harry do about the problem of all this discarded plastic and raise awareness through his art? He visited a very remote island in the Caribbean and even there rubbish had been deposited by the sea on its otherwise pristine shores. And so an idea was born: he combined his new love of sailing with art and designed the G-Cubes to highlight this issue. A ‘Garbage-Cube’ is made from ocean waste, compressed into 10-centimetre-square cubes. The cubes are made in moulds in groups of ten and finally a resin of recycled oil from Switzerland is poured over in three stages, 24 hours apart, to create the finished product. In more remote islands these functional blocks can be used to build furniture, walls or even structures.

Back in Switzerland he sold his house, bought a boat and spent a long while preparing the infrastructure for circumnavigation, complete with a sort of G-Cube studio on board. Harry found many retired volunteers to help him crew the boat in “shifts” or periods of weeks in rotation.

They set sail from Marseilles in September 2017, travelling via Canarias, St Lucia again, Columbia, the Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands, and shockingly even there they witnessed the massive problem of waste, washed up by the sea. Products made in the US such as Coca-Cola, Kraft or Nestlé formed the majority of garbage.

The journey continued to French Polynesia, Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, Fiji and then to Australia. They sailed up the East Coast to Darwin and there Harald shared his vision in school workshops to educate future generations. They moved on to Indonesia where a now worldwide collaborative initiative, ‘Trash Hero’, has achieved remarkable results with its ‘Eco-Brick’, made by stuffing unwanted plastic bags into plastic bottles and then compressing into bricks, enabling residents to construct houses out of the G-Cube concept.

They continued via Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India to Al Mouj Marina in Oman. Arriving in Muscat Harry gave the first workshop to the Wave community before visiting two schools in the capital. On Monday morning middle school students from The American International School, Muscat went down to the beach to collect their own rubbish. On Tuesday the students worked in groups of ten, using the two compressors to create their own cubes as described. Next week he will be visiting the Sultan’s School in Seeb to work with their eco-warriors.

Harald Reichenbach had hoped to be back in Marseilles by the end of August, making it a two-year voyage. Hopes are now to revisit Mumbai to carry out much needed awareness workshops there, and take a different route to return to Marseilles via St Helena, Cape Verde, Las Palmas and Gibraltar by May 2020.

‘G-Cubes’ is a dynamic project to sensitize communities and present solutions to garbage problems. It becomes a preventative method and is a not-for-profit NGO charity, fully financed by Harald’s fundraising efforts. In Oman there needs to be a municipality-driven campaign to stop the use of single-use plastics immediately. One area in South America reduced their use of plastics by 90 per cent in such a move by implementing heavy fines for anyone caught flouting the ban. Reichenbach’s ideas have been adopted in Columbia and also funded by the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club in Malaysia where, if there are any profits, they are ploughed back into the project.

In Oman it would be helpful to work with local schools in future and in conjunction with the Environmental Society of Oman. Harry concluded, “It seems that all around the world NGOs are working individually on their own issues. It is not for personal recognition that we work, it should be for the environment and our planet. It is only by working together and combining our energies that we have a chance to succeed!”

Article by Georgina Benison, Oman Observer.