Last updated on September 24, 2023.
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!
Art by Marie Cullis
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, and arranged the plastic pieces, using glue to attach them. Some of the items are highly recognizable, like the toothbrush, plastic spoon, and dental pick.
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.
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!
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!
Freedom Park and Sculpture Garden, Camano Island, WA
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
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, and engineered and assembled them into a 4-story whale art installation.
This is the video from their successful 2018 Kickstarter:
Over Flow at Lisbon’s Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Portugal
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
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!
The World of Litter by Peter Smith
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:
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.
Article, “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.