Catch one of Kat Crabill's pieces out of the corner of your eye, and you might think the 31-year-old artist, who lives in Holualoa, Hawaii, works with jade or quartz. In reality, every stonelike element in her rainbow-bright designs is a chunk of plastic Crabill collected from the Aloha State's shoreline. To date the beachcomber has turned several hundred pounds of debris into provocative wearable art.

Fish-bitten plastic fragments, before and after. Photo: Courtesy of Nurdle in the Rough

Making Waves
When Crabill was growing up on the Big Island, her second home was the water. "I've been going nose-to-nose with sea cucumbers for as long as I can remember," she says. With her affinity for the ocean came a drive to protect it from one of its greatest threats: plastic pollution. A trained metalsmith who dabbled in jewelry-making, Crabill found a way to combine advocacy and adornment by creating gems out of things like deodorant tubes and drift nets. In 2014, she launched her line Nurdle in the Rough, named for the meltable plastic pellets used to make everything from phone cases to toys.

Vibrant polished gems to be made into rings. Photo: Courtesy of Nurdle in the Rough

Picks of the Litter
With its strong currents and heavy winds, Kamilo Beach is a notoriously garbage-strewn stretch—which makes it a treasure trove for Crabill. Whether she visits solo or as part of a group cleanup, she always leaves with a truckful of goodies: bottle caps, toothbrushes, water jugs, hagfish traps (picture a perforated cone), microplastics (shards as small as pencil erasers). Each item is washed, sorted by color, and cataloged before being shaped and buffed with a homemade polisher. "The plastic I recover might have stuff growing on it," says Crabill. "A bit of elbow grease goes into each piece."

Photo: Courtesy of Nurdle in the Rough

Unnatural Beauty
Crabill knows it's an unusual calling. "I often feel like the Little Mermaid of trash," she says. "Look at this stuff! Isn't it not neat? But we all have a say in this problem—and I hope my jewelry helps people use their voice more." Besides, as she explains, the designs double as icebreakers: "No, my earrings aren't turquoise—they're made from a bottle of fabric softener!"


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