Plastic Art Projects

Last updated on April 21, 2024.

There are many attractive, deliberate, thought-provoking art installations using reclaimed ocean plastic, plastic collected from trashed landscapes, and other upcycled disposable materials. I wanted to present a selection of them to show how some people are trying to spread the message about plastics in our environment through art. Below are some of the art installations I’ve found both online and in my travels. I’ve included my own plastic art because I am inspired by others (and I pick up trash anyway). I’ll be sure to add this page as I discover more inspirational art. Enjoy!

Art by Marie Cullis

Plastic trash arranged in an ocean scene, colorful plastics with an aqua and sea blue background.
Photo of Plastic Art by Marie Cullis, August 2023.

When my family visited St. Augustine, Florida, in 2021, we picked up beach trash as we always do. This time, I cleaned and saved the majority of it for a future art piece. Inspired by many of the works below, I created this plastic ocean scene in the Summer of 2023. I painted a square piece of wood for the background with acrylic paint, and then arranged the plastic pieces, using glue to attach them. Some of the items are highly recognizable, like the toothbrush, plastic spoon, and dental pick. There’s even the rolled end of an old latex condom in there (sanitized, of course). Measures 12 inches by 12 inches.

Mermaid's Grotto, plastic pieces to make the collected items with the mermaid doll at center. Blue, aqua, black background.
“Mermaid’s Grotto” by Marie Cullis, September 2023.

My family visited Duck, North Carolina in 2022. We picked up trash on all of our walks. When we returned to our rental, I saved as many pieces as I could for a future art piece and sanitized them. When I found the broken mermaid doll, I immediately knew this would be the center or focus piece. Inspired by The Little Mermaid, this piece came together using plastic pieces that look like everyday items in this context. Plastic parts from fireworks became jellyfish or stars. Plastic caps became cups and kitchen items. I turned candy wrappers into purses. Water bottle caps appear as bubbles. Solo cup pieces became sea plants. Other parts were more obvious, such as the paintbrush, barrette, and the cellophane sun in the upper right. And of course, I had a piece of a fork – that is, a dinglehopper! I painted a large piece of wood for the background with acrylic paint and used glue to attach the pieces. Measures 24 inches by 24 inches.

Art by Greyson Cullis

Plastic art piece, white bleach bottle with blue bottle caps as eyes of a marsh periwinkle snail, with green plastic bottle as marsh grass in background.
Upcycled sculpture of a marsh periwinkle snail by Greyson Cullis, February 2024. Photo by Marie Cullis.

Greyson went on a school field trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia. Each student was assigned an animal to study that they had to research and look for on the island. Then, they had to present their work at a showcase and one of the components was to create a sculpture of the creature using discarded items, such as plastic. Greyson’s creature was the marsh periwinkle snail, and above is his sculpture. He made it out of a white bleach bottle with water bottle eye stalks and blue bottle cap eyes. He used white paper and cardboard to hold it together. There were originally three green plastic bottles, one is seen in the background, which was the marsh grass the snail lives in. The best part was that he requested I display it in our home with my plastic art so that we could be “a plastic art family.” Love!

Washed Ashore

This organization started in 2010 when Angela Haseltine Pozzi, an artist, asked volunteers to help her clean up beach trash. She used the plastic trash to create large sculptures and use them to educate people about the trash, plastic, and ocean pollution. These works are nothing short of amazing and beautiful and uplifting! Pozzi designs the sculptures and leads school workshops. Volunteers collect trash from the beach, and then clean, sort, and assist with construction. Check out their website.

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

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 I encountered in person!

Plastic swordfish at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
Photo by Marie Cullis.
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 Marie Cullis.

Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee has had at least one traveling exhibit featuring art pieces from Washed Ashore. The Aquarium has a couple of exhibits on plastic pollution and many on the importance of conservation. Here is a plastic art piece in one of their permanent exhibits:

Art piece made entirely of plastic trash, cross section depicts a fish swimming under the water with the sun and greenery above.
Plastic art piece at the Tennessee Aquarium. Photo by Marie Cullis.
Close up of the plastic fish in the art piece, green and orange against blue water.
Photo by Marie Cullis.
Close up of the greenery section, showing identifiable plastic objects.
Photo by Marie Cullis.

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 Marie Cullis.
Close up image of flowers created from plastic bottles at the Creative Discovery Museum
Photo by Marie Cullis.

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.”

Ana Pêgo and Luis Quinta

White plastic sculpture of a whale skeleton, mounted above water and photo taken at night - and the water reflects the entire skeleton.
Photo by Luis Quinta.

This sculpture of the skeleton of a baleen whale was put together in 2014 by marine biologist Ana Pêgo and photographer Luis Quinta, with the support of the Almada City Council in Portugal. It is about 30 feet long and constructed of white plastic objects collected from the beach. “Whales are the largest animals on the planet. This one represents one of the biggest problems of our time,” Pêgo wrote.3 Here is a video about the process:

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, and engineered and assembled them into a 4-story whale art installation.4

Sculpture of a whale made from plastic waste jumping out of a canal, with buildings along a street in the background.

Sculpture of a whale made from plastic waste jumping out of a canal, with buildings along a street in the background.

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!

Sculpture of an octopus made from colorful plastic waste and netting, with a gray and blue building in the background.

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.

Sculpture of a rabbit made from colorful plastic waste and parts.

 

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.

 

Additional Resources:

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

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.
  3. Book, Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species, by Ana Pêgo and Isabel Minhós Martins, Greystone Kids, Vancouver, 2020.
  4. Article, “Whale made from plastic waste leaps out of canal,” newatlas.com, June 27, 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.