In Mashable’s series Wasted, we dig into the myriad ways we’re trashing our planet. Because it’s time to sober up.
TikTok is turning against the viral resin art it made popular, but the backlash is opening up a larger conversation about who’s responsible for the environmental crisis.
When social distancing regulations and stay-at-home orders confined a majority of the world to their homes last year, DIY projects of all kinds grew in popularity during this pandemic. Many , which also and accomplishment during and otherwise languishing year. In the midst of a job losses and economic standstill, some were able to monetize their skills.
Resin is a gorgeous medium, and the process of creating art using it is ripe for viral content. From keychains to figurines to rolling trays, epoxy resin can be used to make any and all knick-knacks, and rake in views in the process. The swirling glitter, mesmerizing pours, and stunning finished product — often recorded and posted in multiple parts for more traffic to the artist’s account — is a niche of its own on TikTok. The hashtag #resin has a staggering 8.8 billion views, with #resinart and #resinpour following at 5.4 billion and 1.7 billion views, respectively.
Thanks to the medium’s popularity, the marketplace Etsy is oversaturated with resin art. TikTok users started voicing concerns that the art’s materials are ultimately contributing to excess waste, since these pieces aren’t biodegradable. Videos of resin pours, which were once received with wonder, are now peppered with comments denouncing the medium as “unnecessary and bad for the environment.” Some are already finding resin clutter at thrift shops.
Epoxy resin, which is essentially plastic, is an ideal medium because it’s more durable and lightweight than clay, glass, or metal, and it stays transparent as it hardens, which is why it’s so popular for momentos. It’s the most widely used type of resin in crafting because it’s less likely to yellow over time like fiberglass resin, and it’s more resistant to moisture damage than polyurethane resin.
But resin doesn’t break down and it’s toxic before it fully cures. Amid its growing popularity as an art form over the last year, environmental activists are questioning whether the craft is worth it. Alaina Wood, an environmental planner based in Tennessee who primarily works with solid waste disposal, is especially concerned with the disposal of uncured resin. In a TikTok posted in January, she explained that uncured resin is a hazardous waste, and businesses should not dispose of it at household hazardous waste facilities because they’re commercial generators, not residential ones.
“I am not one to judge any artist’s medium choice, but I do worry that because resin crafts have become popular lately, we will eventually see a lot more resin in landfills than we typically do,” Wood told Mashable.
She added that she still sees TikTok creators making resin crafts without the proper safety gear — uncured epoxy resin must be handled in a well-ventilated room while wearing a mask and gloves — and because of that, she worries that those creators aren’t following the proper disposal protocols, either. Uncured resin. Cured resin can be tossed out in regular trash, but it can’t be recycled like other consumer plastics.
“I hope that people aren’t immediately throwing away resin crafts, but it is naïve to think resin crafts won’t eventually be thrown out,” Wood continued.
While some environmentalists raised concerns about resin art over the last year, general backlash against the material ramped up on TikTok in the past few months. In the name of sustainability, TikTok users have started speaking out against resin art as a blight on local ecosystems by posting videos and berating artists themselves. Yume Cafe, an online shop that sells lipsticks, keychains, and resin-encased Pokémon cards, was a recent target of the anti-resin backlash.
In response to a comment describing her art as “literal shit,” Yume Cafe posted another video demolding a glittering resin-encased Pokémon Vulpix card. Countless resin artists have posted videos of their crafts with positive feedback, but for whatever reason, Yume Cafe’s video of demolding that particular card received a flood of comments decrying resin as environmentally unsound. Though other TikTok users assured Yume Cafe that the product was beautiful, the comments directed at the account were largely critical for a few days after the video went viral. The video, which now has more than three million views, became a proxy for a larger discussion of personal environmental responsibility.
How could activists attack small businesses and independent artists for sustainability practices when massive corporations, which produce far more waste in one day than said artists could produce in a lifetime, are rarely held accountable for contributing to the environmental crisis?
“There will always be something new to hate on the internet.”
“It’s a moot point to argue with people like that in my opinion,” Yume Cafe told Mashable. She preferred to not share her real name. “It would just be a constant back and forth. There’s others that’ll do the arguing for me…There will always be something new to hate on the internet.”
She noted that she “got a relatively late start” in the resin crafting business — Yume Cafe opened in January — and credited that viral video with boosting her sales. Given the “unfortunate circumstances” that the pandemic caused, she’s glad others have taken up crafting as well.
The backlash against resin art parallels the backlash against plastic straws: It’s well-intentioned, but it may not be the best use of time or energy. Plastic straws, like most single-use consumer plastic, aren’t biodegradable and can’t be recycled. They are, however, a boon to those with disabilities since , and drinking without a straw may not be an option.
Banning plastic straws led to Starbucks switching to sippy cup-style plastic lids, which were thicker and heavier than their previous ones. The lids are recyclable, but as the Guardian noted, . Likewise, the push against resin art is questionable when it targets small businesses over corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle, which are the .
Kape, a TikTok creator and digital artist, has shifted her stance on resin art. She’s known for her viral resin apocalypse series, which imagines a dystopian future in which few resources survive an environmental apocalypse except resin art. In one video, she jokes, “POV: it’s 1000 years in the future and your mother is making you finish your dinner of resin pyramids and ashtrays.” In another, her character finds a rare “real life flower,” but is intercepted by “the resin police.” She even referenced a monument of internet history in a POV video, in which the resin police “are trying to figure out why someone would fill a jar with cream colored resin and has some random small rainbow and blue horse inside.”
(It’s an unfortunate, but hilarious .)
Kape told Mashable that her series isn’t meant to bash resin artists themselves, but to make a lighthearted comment on pollution in general. A few videos in, she decided to change her pace.
“Some things aren’t very useful and (it) seems bad that someone would create something useless that will never decompose,” Kape explained. That being said, as her videos grew in popularity, she noticed some viewers used them to justify bashing resin artists. “I find attacking artists or even anyone to be very rude. I take responsibility in people attacking them tho bc (sic) of my series. That’s why I wanted to shift the series to the bigger picture of pollution and give some fictional context to why resin is important to the story.”
She eventually posted another video asking her viewers to stop attacking resin artists in the name of sustainability.
Leaving negative comments on an artist’s post is unlikely to convince them to change their ways, and is ultimately less helpful to the environmental cause when compared to actions against the world’s top polluters. That same energy could be directed toward petitioning local governments to allocate more of its budget towards sustainability efforts, volunteering for community clean up projects, and calling for corporations to reduce waste. Still, environmental experts like Wood want to sway artists to consider more sustainable materials in addition to environmental conservation efforts.
“I highly encourage artists to be mindful of the materials they use in their art and the way they dispose of them,” Wood said. “For example, acrylic paints are also petroleum-based and must be disposed of differently than regular trash. Overall, I want to encourage artists to find more sustainable alternatives to both acrylic paint, epoxy resins, and so on if they have the means to do so.”
By doing so, we can avoid making the resin police a reality.