My name is Benjamin Von Wong, an artist and activist who has been fighting against single-use plastics for 6 years. In October 2021, I launched a series of photographs around the hashtag #TurnOffThePlasticTap. It featured a giant faucet pouring plastics into different environments. We handed out over $10,000 in prizes and called on a dozen nonprofits to promote it – but unfortunately the launch didn’t go as planned with Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp all going down the day of the launch.
Frustrated, I started working on a plan B: to recreate the art installation in Nairobi, Kenya, where 1500 delegates from 193 different countries were going to gather for an event called #UNEA5 to vote on a global resolution to fight against the plastics.
Unfortunately for me, funding was an issue – and despite interest from a few wealthy people and philanthropists, we weren’t getting enough support to bring this project to life.
Luckily, someone heard about my struggles from an unlikely place and offered to help: The Degenerate Trash Pandas – an online Web 3.0 community dedicated to collecting NFTs on the green proof-of-stake blockchain, Solana .
One of these panda collectors was an anonymous plastics expert and activist leader known as Solly.
Solly the ice monkey is an eco-activist and Degen NFT collector. For the past two months, he had been trying to find ways to connect NFTs to real-world environmental impact opportunities.
When he heard about my mission, he immediately saw the potential and contacted the core developers of Degenerate Trash Pandas ( Pit and Viper) to see what they thought about bringing a giant faucet spewing garbage all over the United Nations headquarters.
They loved the idea. So much so that they offered to provide seed funding straight out of their own pocket to pay for the installation.
Now it was just a matter of finding a way to turn the idea into reality.
Finding a local partner for large-scale projects like these is always essential.
Not only do we want to make sure we are providing local jobs and opportunities directly to the community, but we also need to find a group that has the technical expertise to run the project.
This is where The Human Needs Project comes in.
It is a 501c3 that serves the community of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum that is home to over 1.2 million people in an area the size of Central Park. As an organization, they provide services directly to the community – such as clean water, sanitation services and educational opportunities. They were looking for a way to create more sustainable waste management systems, and this could be an opportunity to create a win-win situation.
What if they could help us build this art installation, in return – we could organize a fundraising campaign for them to start a circular waste management program?
To make this fundraiser appealing, we needed a hook.
What better hook than a raffle, where the winners would get their PFPs printed life-size and brought straight to the United Nations for a once-in-a-lifetime photo op?
It would be an amazing metaverse story that intersects with real word activism.
Before we knew it, we started a website called PandasNotPlastic.com and were off to the races – to raise $1000 SOL (about $100,000 USD) to help create 1000 permanent jobs through the Human Needs Project.
At the same time, we still had an installation to build.
With funds provided to us by the Degenerate Trash Pandas, we have hired over 60 women from the Kibera community – mothers, widows and women who have been negatively affected by the pandemic to clean and tie up three tons of used plastics in total.
Along the way, we commissioned the Human Needs Project team to design and build a faucet that would be supported by 30 feet of steel, anchored in place with four concrete blocks.
Before we knew it, ten days had passed and it was time to bring the giant tap to the United Nations for our photo shoot.
We started racing at 8 a.m. – with a team of 15 and a dream: to have the giant plastic tap installed in a single day before sunset so we could keep our promise: photos of the winning pandas , hanging out at the United Nations, next to the art installation they helped fund.
Somehow we managed – An unlikely alliance of actors united by art – to make a difference the only way they know how: The United Nations by providing space, The Pandas degenerates with their financial support, the Human Needs Project with their engineering and community expertise, and me – the photography and art that tied it all together.
The next day, negotiations began around what would eventually be dubbed “the most important green deal since the Paris climate accord.”
The facility became what was undeniably the most photographed spot on campus. Dignitaries, representations and even heads of state took selfies in front – all blissfully unaware of the tremendous work that has gone into behind the scenes to bring this project to life.
But for once, I felt a sense of deep satisfaction.
This time it wasn’t just another outreach project. This time it was about creating our own solution and celebrating those who have spent decades in the fight with a symbol of what they were fighting for.
This is the unlikely story of how a single photograph, featuring PFPs from an NFT community called the Degenerate Trash Pandas, helped secure an art installation at the United Nations headquarters in Nairobi and raised 100,000 $ for the Human Needs project during the “biggest green deal”. since the Paris climate agreements.