A modern disposable cup next to an ancient pottery cup.

Past exhibition

19 December 2019 – 23 February 2020

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Today there is increasing awareness of the devastating impact of plastic pollution, but humans have been creating rubbish for as long as we have been making objects.

This small display considered the historical creation of single-use and repurposed objects and presented an artistic response to plastic waste washing up in Pacific islands. The Asahi Shimbun Displays Disposable? Rubbish and us was an intriguing look at our changing relationship with the things we throw away, as we struggle to deal with today's unprecedented levels of waste. Two very different disposable cups opened the display. One was a waxed paper Air India cup, made in the 1990s, and the other was made around 3,500 years ago on the island of Crete by the Minoan people. These small clay cups were discarded in large numbers, probably after being used once to serve wine at feasts. Both cups speak of wealth and power, highlighting valuable resources and labour have been used throughout history to make objects that would only be used once. However, it must be recognised that the creation of Minoan clay cups was on an infinitely smaller scale.

A fishing basket made from plastic wrapping found washed up on a beach in Guam in the Pacific Ocean, by contemporary artist Anthony Guerrero, is another starkly poignant object. It reminds us that much of the plastic in the Pacific is generated by the international fishing, food transportation and construction industries – and that individual responses alone cannot alleviate the problem.

Museums too must play their part in reducing waste. The British Museum is striving to lessen its environmental impact, with all waste produced onsite being either recycled or burned and converted to electricity. We are also committed to more sustainable exhibition development, and over 90% of the materials used to build the display were recycled from the Manga exhibition.


Supported by

The Asahi Shimbum logo

These displays were made possible by the support of The Asahi Shimbun Company, longstanding corporate sponsors of the British Museum. The Asahi Shimbun is a Japanese leading newspaper and the company also provides a substantial information service via the internet. The company has a century-long tradition of philanthropic support, notably staging key exhibitions in Japan on art, culture and history from around the world. In addition to the Asahi Shimbun Displays, The Asahi Shimbun Company is a committed supporter of the British Museum touring exhibition programme in Japan, and funder of The Asahi Shimbun Gallery of Amaravati sculpture in Room 33a.

The Asahi Shimbun Dispays