Art as a Tool for Zero Waste Advocacy 

RethinkWaste recently hosted our 10th annual Poster Contest, garnering beautiful drawings from students across our service area that reflect how our youth think and feel about sorting waste. The Poster Contest is one of two contests RethinkWaste hosts each year to give students an opportunity to interrogate their relationship with waste by using art as a medium. The Poster Contest is centered on making waste-related drawings while the Trash to Art contest, hosted in the Spring, encourages students to be creative by reusing household materials to make 3-D art pieces. You can view past contest’s art pieces here.   

Throughout history, art has been a powerful tool for activism. Artists can convey complex sentiments about topics that may be difficult to communicate through words alone. A part of the power of art is in its longevity—art is timeless and can help the influential messages of artists to live on in the present and through generations. Most importantly, art has the potential to make us feel a range of emotions that inspire us to come together to make change in our daily lives. When we resonate with art, we become mobilized to act.  

Across the world, many artists have used their creative talents to express their feelings and raise awareness about waste-related issues. Other artists have made it their mission to only create pieces made from reused materials. In this blog post, we will be highlighting some pieces displayed around Northern California that showcase the important connection between art and zero waste advocacy. 

Ethyl the Whale by Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova 

Photo credit: Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

This sculpture of a blue whale was erected in San Francisco’s Crissy Field facing the Golden Gate Bridge  from 2018 to 2019. The large sculpture is made entirely out of discarded single-use plastic commonly found in households and created in collaboration by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a team of artists attempting to raise awareness about ocean plastic pollution. The concept behind the whale is highlighted in the unfortunate fact displayed on a nearby plaque that reads, “Every nine minutes 300,000 pounds of plastic—the weight of a blue whale—makes its way into the ocean.” The sculpture went on to win a Guiness World Record for being the world’s largest recycled plastic sculpture.   

Goldie and Leap by Sayaka Ganz 

Photo Credit: Sayaka Ganz
Photo credit: Sayaka Ganz

Ganz’s work is also made from reclaimed plastic materials and highlights the connection between humans and our relationship to the natural world. She states, “I believe the best way for artists to help reduce waste is to show how beautiful these materials can be, and what can be done with these mundane objects and materials. When we think of these things as beautiful, we value them.” Some of Ganz’s work can be found on display in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

PET-ART by Veronika Richterová 

Photo credit: Veronika Richterova
Photo credit: Veronika Richterova

Richterová’s art is specifically made from reclaimed PET (polyethylene terephthalate) water bottles. The water bottles are heated and manipulated by the artist and formed into new creative pieces. The completed art pieces are often displayed in installations that incorporate the natural world, as depicted above. Richterová states, I like to create art from things which are used up, adding that she has thought about the creative possibilities of other people’s cast-offs since she was a child. 

From observing the work of these artists, we can assign real meaning to the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” All these artists have a common thread of finding a new life for plastic waste that would otherwise have entered the waste stream. Through their art, these artists are advocating for us to consider reusing materials before we decide to toss them out. As consumers, even if we are not artists, we can apply this sentiment to our own lives and find creative ways to reuse our waste. If you would like to create your own sculpture made of materials that would have otherwise gone to the landfill or recycled for RethinkWaste’s Trash to Art Contest, submissions are open until March 29th


  1. https://www.parksconservancy.org/our-work/monterey-bay-aquariums-blue-whale-art-installation-accessibility-signs 
  1. https://womenmindthewater.com/artivist-series/yustina-salnikova 
  1. https://sayakaganz.com/ 
  1. https://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/plastic-bottle-artworks-veronika-richterov%C3%A1 
  1. https://www.euronews.com/green/2019/03/30/watch-this-czech-artist-creating-life-like-sculptures-from-plastic-bottles