Plastic Art Projects

There are many attractive, deliberate, thought-provoking art installations using reclaimed ocean plastic or other upcycled disposable materials. I wanted to present a selection of them on my website to show my readers how some people are trying to spread the message about plastics in our environment through art. This highlights some of the ones I’ve found both online and in my personal travels. I’ll be sure to add this page as I discover more inspirational art. Enjoy!

North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

I discovered this piece near the interior entrance of the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores in Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. I took my son there on a rainy day while visiting my best friend in North Carolina. This representation of a blue marlin made from trash, of course, made me gasp with excitement! It was really cool and one of the first pieces like this that I encountered in person!

Plastic swordfish at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Blue Marlin art installation at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
Blue Marlin art installation at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Photos by me.

Creative Discovery Museum

The Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee has two different areas where children can create art from either traditional mediums and/or upcycled materials. This art installation in their art gallery is a flower garden of sorts. All of the “flowers” were made from plastic bottles that were collected, cleaned, spray-painted, cut and assembled. Isn’t it gorgeous and inspiring? Imagine it from a child’s perspective!

Wall of flowers created from colorful plastic bottles at the Creative Discovery Museum.
Wall of flowers created from plastic bottles at the Creative Discovery Museum, made by Signal Centers Adult Day Services. Photo by me.
Close up image of flowers created from plastic bottles at the Creative Discovery Museum
Photo by me.

Freedom Park and Sculpture Garden, Camano Island, WA

Orca sculpture made from beach trash
“That Killer Whale is Garbage!” by Mike Gifford on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This orca sculpture on Camano Island was created by a group of 6th graders for a class project. Those kids gathered, cleaned, and created this sculpture with the help of a metalworker artist, and all of the trash was collected from the island’s shoreline. Quoted in an article about the piece, one of the students said, “I hope that people will look at Greyson the Whale and think all that plastic was in the water and will try to use less plastic.” I love this sculpture!

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s blue whale art installation

Plastic art installation, a huge blue whale made from plastic waste.
Photo by Fabrice Florin on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Plastic art installation, a huge blue whale made from plastic waste.
Photo by Fabrice Florin on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Installation by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in partnership with other organizations, by artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova. “The whale is made mostly of single-use plastic trash. It’s the stuff people think is being recycled, but often isn’t: Grocery bags, milk jugs, laundry detergent containers, bubble wrapping, produce bags, etc. We spent months collecting, sorting, cleaning, shredding, heating, and molding the plastic to create the whale you see in front of you. Every nine minutes 300,000 pounds of plastic—the weight of a blue whale — makes its way into the ocean. To draw attention to this enormous problem, we built a life-sized blue whale from discarded single-use plastic.”

The Container Recycling Institute

The Container Recycling Institute (CRI) did an art installation in 2017 to represent the number of recyclable beverage containers consumed by a single person each year. I’ve always argued that these are the most common single-use disposable items found during litter clean-ups, so I was quite excited by this project!

Here’s another art installation by the CRI representing that only 32% of beverage containers actually get recycled. Love the dolphins!

Skyscraper the Bruges Whale by STUDIOKCA

This project is super impressive! This company picked up beach and ocean plastics, sorted and cleaned the plastics, engineered and assembled them into a 4-story whale art installation.

This is the video from their successful 2018 Kickstarter:

Beautifully done!

Over Flow at Lisbon’s Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Portugal

"Over Flow" plastic art exhibit, looks like a sea of plastic with a boat.
Photo by Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash

Paris-based artist Tadashi Kawamata has created a monumental installation of ocean plastic. The large-scale commission is made up of plastic waste with boats, collected on the country’s coastline by a volunteer clean-up group. The exhibition was commissioned by the Portuguese museum to draw attention to the problem of plastic debris in our oceans.

Plastic Ocean, Imaginarium 2016

Art installtion, walking under a plastic sea.
Photo by Choo Yut Shing on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A recreation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Artist Tan Zi Xi. Composed of 26,000 pieces of non-biodegradable plastic items, this installation mimics the sensation of floating in a sea of trash.

Ophelia the Octopus, created by High School Students

Art students at Kodiak High School in Alaska created an octopus sculpture out of marine debris to generate public awareness of plastics in the ocean. High School students did this – wow!

Washed Ashore

These works are nothing short of amazing and beautiful and uplifting! Created by artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi to portray the diversity of ocean trash and to educate about ocean pollution. Pozzi designs the sculptures and leads school workshops. Volunteers collect trash from the beach, and then clean, sort, and assist with construction. Under Additional Resources below, I’ve included a link to their website.

Priscilla the Parrotfish plastic art sculpture
Priscilla the Parrotfish
Shark sculpture from plastic
Shark sculpture from plastic
Maury the sea turtle plastic sculpture
Maury the Sea Turtle
Lidia the Seal plastic sculpture
Lidia the Seal
Poly the Polar Bear, plastic art, exhibit at Toronto Zoo
Poly the Polar Bear. Photo by Hazwan Kosni on Unsplash

The World of Litter by Peter Smith

The World of Litter plastic globe in Amsterdam, floating in the water.
The World of Litter, Amsterdam. Photo by FaceMePLS on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0).

Dutch artist and founder of the KLEAN foundation Peter Smith made a globe of plastic trash in 2012 from what he collected on the streets of Amsterdam, to call attention in the Netherlands to the plastic soup problem. Here’s a video that explains Smith’s goals and process:

Mermaid washed ashore in plastic bottles

Benjamin Von Wong photographed a mermaid, washed ashore in a sea of 10,000 plastic bottles, as a way to make the plastic pollution problem more interesting to people. He made a video about his purpose and process:

Ocean Sole

Image of Ocean Sole's Giraffe sculptures made from upcycled flip-flops.
Ocean Sole Giraffes

Ever thought about all of those cheap flip-flops people wear and inevitably throw away? Many are made from plastic and end up in waterways and the oceans, even on the East African coast. The Ocean Sole organization, a social enterprise, collects flip-flops on the coast of Kenya and upcycles them into colorful sculptures to sell and support the local economy. They upcycle about 400,000 flip-flops and sandals annually. That’s a lot of plastic not staying in the ocean. What a great venture!

Rabbit Rabbit Sculpture by Robert Bradford

This is another inspiring piece: A rabbit sculpture made from toys.

 

Are there art projects featuring plastics and other discarded materials that you’d like to share? Please leave a comment or use the contact me form to tell me about them!

Thanks for reading.

 

Last updated on January 30, 2022.

Additional Resources:

Article, “12 Inspiring Works of Art on Plastic Pollution,” Plastic Pollution Collection, May 2, 2017.

Website, Washed Ashore: Art To Save the Sea, accessed January 30, 2022.

Article, “On The Oregon Coast, Turning Pollution Into Art With A Purpose,” NPR.org, December 4, 2019.

Article, ” San Francisco artist turns trashed toys into plastic art panels,” abc7news.com, February 7, 2020.

Footnotes:

  1. Article, “Camano students collect debris, transform it into artSeptember 6, 2015
  2. Page, “Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Blue Whale Art Installation Accessibility Signs,” Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, accessed January 30, 2022.

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