For six months, I lived with all of my recyclables stockpiled in my home – and my home is a small catamaran, so there’s not a lot of space! I cleaned and stored every plastic, aluminum, cardboard, and glass piece that came into my home.
Because I was so aware of every piece of recycling generated, I discovered that it takes A LOT of awareness and forward thinking in our society not to generate at least one recyclable every day. And knowing that over half of recyclables in America end up going into the landfill, I wanted to find a way to repurpose my recyclables myself in a way that would help me de-stress over my environmental impact.
That’s when I started seeking out recycled art projects. I discovered artists on Instagram who were creating innovative, practical, symbolic, and activistic pieces of art – all with recycled materials. Here are a few upcycling artists I’ve discovered in the last few months who work with the mediums of plastic, aluminum, and electronics – the most important items to be recycled. I hope that these upcycling ideas do for you what they did for me – grow the imagination and help you to start seeing the possibility in your trash.
Angela Haseltine Pozzi was inspired to make something out of the marine plastic she kept seeing washed up on the beaches in her home state of Oregon. She wanted to both raise awareness around this issue while making something meaningful out of these discarded pieces. So, she founded Washed Ashore, a nonprofit that organizes beach clean-up events and then uses the trash picked up to create sculptures of the marine life that is negatively affected by the trash. These sculptures are incredibly powerful and stand as silent sentinels over the beaches. Angela is determined to keep minimizing plastic waste. “Until we run out of plastic on the beach, we will keep doing our work.”
You can also do something about the plastic that washes up in your home. Sibia Torres Padilla is a digital creator and DIYer who creates innovative low-waste crafts. Her Instagram page @sibster simply breathes with original upcycling ideas – everything from turning plastic containers into lanterns and repurposing cardboard for art pieces. This one idea caught my eye particularly and I immediately messaged Sibia telling her I wanted to try it!
Think of how many yogurt or plastic container tops you generate. Now you can make art out of them! Try cutting off two yogurt tops, arrange pressed flowers between them, and superglue them together. Then, paint the glued edge, add some string or a chain, and you have what looks like pressed flowers behind glass – and you’ve upcycled to boot!
I’m guessing Noah Deledda hasn’t thrown away a beer or soda can since he started creating highbrow art pieces out of them. Using just his fingers to dent the can, Noah designs intricate geometric patterns over the can’s entire surface, displaying them in industrial glass frames. He comments on how removing the product label from the can is an exciting part of the process, revealing a natural element that no longer is wrapped up in consumerist marketing. Using his hands rather than a machine is important to Noah as he feels both the material and the artistic process are natural.
Cindy at Upcycle Design Lab loves to create anything and everything out of aluminum and found objects, calling herself a crafter “with a healthy dose of trash hoarding disorder.” Her website is packed with brilliant approaches to creating art while recycling aluminum. Cindy has tutorials on how to create beads, jewelry, mod podge easter decorations, planter charms, and flower vases – all out of beer and soda cans. But her magnus opus has got to be her multi-episode tutorial on how to design an aluminum wedding dress! If you don’t ever want to throw out another aluminum can again, check this creative genius out.
Every day, 142,000 computers are thrown away in America. E-waste is becoming a major concern as our electronic consumption continues to increase.
Fortunately, there are artists like Benjamin Von Wong bringing attention to the issue. Benjamin is a self-taught photographer from Montreal whose style is utterly unique and off-the-walls in energy and concept. After working on a variety of projects, Benjamin eventually created a one-of-a-kind photography campaign company called Unforgettable Labs. The company builds and photographs breathtaking art installation pieces as campaigns to highlight the impactful efforts of big corporations trying to diminish their carbon footprint. The campaign he created for Dell (a company that has the world’s largest global computer recycling program) involved three different sets made completely out of recycled e-waste. Benjamin’s mission was to make electronic recycling look cool to convince people to recycle their computers. He definitely lived up to the task!
But you don’t have to create epic sets in order to recycle e-waste! If you have an old computer lying around, you can remove pieces of the motherboard and hardware to create art. This is what the Etsy creator ByteProducts does, creating hairclips, shower curtain hooks, baskets, bracelets, and keychains out of motherboard chips from abandoned computers.
It doesn’t matter whether you want to go big or go small with your upcycled art vision. Just don’t go home without creating something spectacular – art that brings awareness to recycling and shows the possibility that always lives inside our trash.
At NJIN, we are passionate about helping young people discover their earth-purpose. Our programs are designed to offer structured curriculum and real-world experiences within a space that encourages students to roam freely in nature, growing their innovation, self-exploration, and experimentation. Join us!