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Sean Connaughty

April 29, 2016

Lake Hiawatha Trash survey 2015

Filed under: Blog — Sean @ 9:23 pm



Lake Hiawatha, Minneapolis, MN

Sean Connaughty, Principal Investigator

Carol Nordstrom, Statistical Analyisis

Statistical Analysis of Trash Collected from Lake Hiawatha

Minneapolis, Minnesota. May to September 2015



Sean Connaughty removed 103 bags of garbage from Lake Hiawatha in 2015. Items from a sample collection were identified, sorted and counted. The sample collection was removed from the entire circumference of the Lake. The artifacts were extracted from shallow water and the shore. The sample size was 6 bags of collected trash, each bag removed from the Lake weighed at least 20 lbs. 103 bags of trash total were removed in 2015, the total weighing over 2,000 lbs. The collected and sorted materials listed here have been cleaned and saved. The collection is available for continued research. Connaughty and Nordstrom counted, sorted and recorded each item in the sample collection. The items are listed in order of descending quantity.




Total in 6 Bags

Est. total in 103 Bags

Multiply by 5 years



Top 20 Identified Wrapper brands

6 bags

Est. 103 bags

Projected 5 yrs.

Projected 5 yrs.


1. styrofoam/polystyrene*







Amongst the items found in the Lake were more than 100 syringes, dozens of diapers, condoms, cans of spray paint, bug spray, numerous automotive product containers (oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze, fuel injector cleaner etc.), hand sanitizer, pharmaceuticals, air fresheners, cosmetics, hundreds of cigarette lighters to name a few of the items commonly found amongst the thousands of snack wrappers, bits of poly styrene, and plastic products.  These items are detrimental to ecosystems. In addition to the floatables which enter the Lake through the storm sewer system, are invisible pollutants, such as lawn chemicals, oil and fuel residues. This is impacting a vital ecosystem which is home to a variety of wildlife. Installing an effective point source mitigation system is recommended immediately to prevent further ecological damage to habitat and degradation of our water resources. Additionally the pollution impacts water quality downstream. Installing a system to stop the flow of pollutants is imperative immediately.




 by Carol Nordstrom:


Methodology: During the spring and summer of 2015, Connaughty began picking up bags of trash and litter that he found on his daily walks around Lake Hiawatha near his home in South Minneapolis. He began posting photos of the trash bags and some of the unusual finds on social media. Nordstrom suggested taking a sampling of the bags and sorting them for analysis. In late June of 2015 it was estimated that at least 60 bags would be collected through the course of the summer. We selected 6 random bags, which represented 10 percent of the total. Each bag was weighed and then sorted by type; plastic bottles, aluminum cans, candy and food wrappers, plastic straws, etc.


From the sample, we counted the number of each item per bag and averaged the number over the 6 sample bags. What was initially striking was the uniformity of objects in each sample analyzed. Plastic abounded: drinking straws, bottles, bottle caps, cigarillo tips, candy wrappers, disposable dental picks, etc. Aluminum cans were abundant, as were golf balls, tennis balls, and odd items such as foam Nerf dart toys. By the end of the year, Connaughty had actually collected 103 bags of trash from around the lake’s surface.


Theory: Because of the uniformity of each sample, we felt comfortable extrapolating from then estimated ten percent to the entirety of 103 bags that were retrieved. In other words, if an average of 72.5 drinking straws were found in each sample bag, it can be extrapolated that there would be approximately 7,468 in all of the 103 bags collected. If such is the case then, over 5 years it is entirely possible that 37,338 plastic drinking straws would make their way into Lake Hiawatha. Over 50 years, that number would reach approximately 373,375.



Sample Standard Deviation: This analysis does not include standard deviation because sample data is lacking. Total counts are reliable for the six sample bags analyzed but individual counts from each of the six sample bags was not retained. Because of the uniformity of the artifacts retrieved per sample bag, casual observation indicates that estimates of totals per year and over time are highly appropriate. If the collection and analysis continue in the future, standard deviations will be included.


Comments: It should be noted that the items found were mainly plastics, aluminum, and polystyrene. According to sciencelearn.org.nz it takes between 500 years to forever for a polystyrene cup to biodegrade. Plastic bags take the same amount of time. Glass bottles take 1 million years to biodegrade and aluminum cans take between 80 and 100 years. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/chemfact/styre-sd.pdf, acute effects on humans of styrene include eye and throat irritation. Additionally, styrene is shown to be a neurotoxin. And the EPA reports that styrene is moderately toxic to aquatic organisms.


According to abe-research.illinois.edu/pubs/factsheet/styrofoam.pdf:


            While some foamed polystyrene material is

            reused (packaging peanuts), most material

            used for food or beverage containers are one-

            use materials. Recycling is technically possible,

            but it is not economically justifiable at this time.


            Because almost all material in landfills

            degrades at an extremely slow rate, the fact that

            foamed polystyrene does not break down rapidly

            is not a significant problem when it is disposed

            of in this manner. When the material becomes

            litter, however, it does represent a significant

            environmental problem.


With regard to plastics, postconsumers.com reports that a plastic bottle will take between 450 to 1000 years to completely break down. Again, plastic bottles are usually used only once. Plastic food wrappers may break down faster than a plastic bottle, say several hundred years, but they are definitely a one-use item and they are ubiquitous on the shores of Lake Hiawatha.


Conclusions: The information offered here probably comes as no surprise to the average citizen who is at least mildly concerned about the environment. The analysis is offered as a wake-up call to all of us who use and care for the chain of lakes in the city of Minneapolis. We applaud the City of Minneapolis for banning the use of most polystyrene containers, however, styrofoam and polystyrene, plastics and aluminum detritus remain with us and will do so for hundreds and thousands of years if not eternity.


How did all of this trash and litter land in beautiful Lake Hiawatha? The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. For one thing, Connaughty has shown that because there is no catchment system in place at Lake Hiawatha, any debris from the streets of South Minneapolis is washed into the sewer system and flows into the lake unfiltered. Every day. Every year. We believe this can and should be addressed immediately. Ultimately, the answer to how this trash and litter have spoiled beautiful Lake Hiawatha is this: We put it there. Carol Nordstrom 2016



Lake Hiawatha

Anthropocenic Midden Survey


Sean Connaughty, Principal Investigator

Carol Nordstrom, Statistical Analyisis


Statistical Analysis of Trash Collected from Lake Hiawatha

Minneapolis, Minnesota - May to September 2015



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April 15, 2016

Lake Hiawatha anthropocenic midden survey

Filed under: Artwork — Sean @ 9:18 pm

Lake Hiawatha- anthropocenic midden survey Lake Hiawatha- anthropocenic midden survey Lake Hiawatha- anthropocenic midden survey Lake Hiawatha- anthropocenic midden survey Lake Hiawatha https://www.flickr.com/photos/95827421@N00/21923118735/in/dateposted-public/ The Birth of Tragedy



“Lake Hiawatha (anthropocenic midden survey)” This surface survey will display 10% of the total of extracted items from this 21st century urban midden site. September 11th 5-9pm Sandbox Theatre 3109 42nd street Minneapolis, MN 55406 In the future, when this culture is looked at in retrospect, they will find our plastic. Today, archaeologists learn about ancient cultures by studying their middens… where they put their garbage. Lake Hiawatha is our midden. In this exhibition you can study our culture as the archaeologists of the future will see it; snack wrappers, plastic bottles, cigarillo tips, syringes etc. What will they think of us? Sean Connaughty has removed 69 large bags of trash from Lake Hiawatha. 6 of those bags of trash were sorted, examined, and for example, included 435 plastic straws in the survey (representing 5,000 plastic straws in the total collected). These all came from our streets and are but a small sample of the totality of our trash output carried from the streets directly to our watershed. At this rate at least 25,000 straws will enter the lake within 5 years. Sean has been working with colleagues to sort and examine the 6 bags of trash. A 10% sample that reveals useful and fascinating data about our urban 21st century culture and our patterns of consumption. The data gathered from this sample is extrapolated to determine the number of each item that Sean removed in his entire cleaning activity. As another example, Sean removed in total 359 Snickers bar wrappers. In five years 1,798 snickers wrappers alone will enter the lake, this is but one of the hundreds of brands represented in the survey. The display also includes hundreds of curious, one of a kind objects that were removed.

The exhibition will examine the history of the lake and will highlight the wildlife that makes its home there. There is a vital ecosystem that has managed to survive there despite the adverse conditions. It is the artist’s hope that this exhibition can mark the end of an era of neglect for the lake, and the beginning a clean and healthy Lake Hiawatha. The exhibition coincides with important meetings that will address the future of the lake and the possibility of infrastructure change. The exhibition will provide ways for you to help improve the situation. Collaborators: Craig Johnson, sustainability designer Annette Walby, artist and landscape architect Carol Nordstrom, archaeology Amy Dritz, action, proactive solutions, design Andy Powell, design Peter Fetsch, design Jason Loeffler, design This exhibitiosupported by neighborhood businesses: Repair Lair, Angry Catfish Bicycle and Coffee Bar, Mend Provisions, Nokomis Pet Clinic, Hudson’s Hardware, May Day Cafe, Southside Shiatsu, Busters Bar and Grill and others




Here is a beautiful piece that was written by Christina Scmid for the exhibition:

Rooted in Place, Devoted to Service: Sean Connaughty’s “Lake Hiawatha (anthropocenic midden survey)” Each day, Sean Connaughty visits Lake Hiawatha. Far from recreational, his strolls serve a purpose: since early spring of 2015, he has been collecting the washed up residue of urban life that gathers in the weeds along the shore. A toy tank may once have been a child’s precious possession; anti-theft tabs, long removed from the clothes they once were attached to, suggest different scenes of furtive gestures and quick get-aways. Countless cigarette butts and holders illustrate other pervasive habits, while soiled diapers and condoms, objects once in such close contact with a body, now seem particularly disgusting and abject. A vial of Rubella vaccine disturbs in a different way by making you wonder what may have happened to that serum, that syringe, had the artist not been out on one of his two-to-three hour one-man clean up efforts. What stories do these objects tell, individually and collectively? Like an archeologist, Connaughty studies the South Minneapolis neighborhoods that are part of Lake Hiawatha’s watershed district through the waste that accumulates on its shores. Plastic bottles, lids, and empty cups. Snack covers in all colors and sizes, bright red candy bar wrappers, torn empty bags of chips. Combs. Tennis balls. A plastic ribbed French fry. Broken automobile parts. Toy bullets. What do these artifacts reveal about life in this place, at this time? What can be inferred about the values and beliefs of the people who live and lived here? For showing a representative ten percent of his findings in a survey- style exhibition at Sandbox Theater, Connaughty sorted and categorized six large black bags full of garbage. The results are daunting. Carol Nordstrom, one of Connaughty’s collaborators, compiled an inventory of items. Identified and tallied by weight and average per bag, Nordstrom’s chart extrapolates what these numbers might mean for the future: what accumulates in five years? In fifty years? These speculative questions transform the “anthropocenic midden survey” from a quasi-archeological investigation into a meditation on our future. These are the traces are we leaving behind for future generations, or, even beyond that, for a posthuman future. Rooted in South Minneapolis, Connaughty’s current practice is deeply committed to serving this place and its people. While his work continues the legacies of artists doing maintenance, the Lake Hiawatha project is an ongoing act of environmental advocacy. Connaughty has been trying to get the city to fix the storm sewer outfall on the lake’s north side, where after heavy storms, the amount of garbage increases significantly. Working with Craig Johnson, a sustainability designer, and Annette Walby an artist and landscape architect, the artist has been reaching out to Steffanie Musich, the 5th District Parks Commissioner for the City of Minneapolis, and to representatives of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. Thus, Connaughty’s work follows in the footsteps of artists of such art-historical significance as Agnes Denes, Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, and Mierle Ukeles Laderman, and joins the activist art of such contemporaries as Christine Baeumler, Steven Siegel, and Bob Johnson. (An excellent resource for this kind of ecological-activist artwork: The New Earthwork). Ultimately, Connaughty’s Lake Hiawatha project aims to be truly transformative, in a sense not limited to aesthetic experience alone. Part of this transformation requires political will to fix an ailing storm sewer infrastructure and think differently about problems endemic to urban life and unlikely to solve themselves. Another part involves understanding the ways this place has already been transformed: for the exhibition, the group chronicled the history of the lake. Originally Rice Lake, it was renamed in the wake of Longfellow’s romantic poetry, for Hiawatha, an Iroquois chief. Like many re-namings in the wake of European settlement, the new name suggests that there was no one here to name the lake earlier and attests to the romance with heroic (and ideally far-away) Native Americans. In more than one way, then, the exhibition is a confrontation, a time capsule, an experience, a survey, and unapologetically a means to an end. - Christina Schmid, August 2015 


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