— Marjorie (Carye's Mom), 1979
I have a thing with trash and it wasn't until I found this baby book entry from when I was 3-4 years old that I realized it's truly been a life-long obsession of sorts. I hate waste, I want things to be reused, I see value in things people want to throw out, and I'm devastated specifically with what plastic waste is doing to our planet especially to the oceans.
Artistically I've been dabbling in trash art over the years. My first year of college I decided to try to not throw anything out. I kept a box in my small dorm closet of things I thought could be made into presents or art. In Portland, I teamed up with a neighbor and artist and we created a 3D portrait of a Madonna out of trash from the street. Our Lady's head was made of a large smashed metal can and her halo made from a toy solider parachute. The result was quite exquisite. I've collected things I've seen thrown out or lost on the streets such as twine in Ireland, single playing cards in San Francisco, and lost balls in San Antonio.
The 2020 Pandemic really pushed my interest in trash to a whole new level. New trash was showing up on the streets—tossed masks and gloves—and with closures of many shops and general safety concerns I stopped going to thrift stores and estate sales and instead started to pick up trash on the streets in my neighborhood. The feeling I'd get finding something interesting or useful left in the streets was the same feeling I get finding a treasure at a second hand shop. I'm intensely interested in human behavior and society and the things you learn from trash is interesting (garbology is a field I could get into), but also alarming and crushing. We as a society have gone off the deep end and are making so much trash, much of it not able to decompose until who knows when; we won't live that long enough to truly know. I feel making art with trash has two goals: one, reusing something that is going to the landfill instead of using new material to make art and two, teaching people awareness about waste and environmental concerns (which are also equity and health issues).
WANNA BE TRASHY?
Trash NabbingLess litter, leave it betterStart going on trash walks in your neighborhood. Keep your own street completely clean of all litter. All you need is a trash grabber (I like Unger Nifty Nabbers) and a bag or bucket. Some gloves for safety (I use reusables that I wash) and a 'practice.' Decide to go out every morning, every evening, every Sunday, or pair it with another task you do (though dog walking and trash nabbing I've heard are a challenge). I like to carry an extra bag for curbside recyclables, bulky metals and hazardous waste like batteries. Set goals for the month, and get your family and friends involved. A neighbor and I special ordered 25 Nifty Nabbers from the local hardware store to resell in the neighborhood, and saved $5 per tool by doing a bulk buy.
Join or start a local anti-litter and waste less groupGroup actions = more changeThe more hands helping make less work and I find it makes me feel good to know others care about litter and waste issues as much as I do. It feels less heavy when you have group care and you can learn a lot from others and actually have some fun together while leaving the world better than you found it.
When I lived in San Antonio, I wasn't easily meeting people who cared about environmental issues like I did. The topic of plastic waste came up on a better city group on Facebook, so I invited some of the contributors to meet for a meal at a local restaurant that had a good system of reusable and only compostable waste except for straws (to which you can always say no thanks). My big concern was plastic waste but when one of the people who showed up had a new compost business, I realized I cared about ALL waste. Food waste that ends up in the landfill is a terrible contributor to greenhouse gases, for example. I started Waste Not San Antonio as a place to network and learn from each other how to create less waste and to put group pressure on businesses or manufacturers to make change.
In Pittsburgh I wanted to connect with people who specifically find it worth while to go out and pick up litter since I got very into "trashnabbing" during the Pandemic in SATX. I started a new online group called Trash Nabbers Pittsburgh to "Talk Trash" and meet local independent street cleaners. For in-person community, I organized a grassroots litter clean up group called Shadyside Street Stewards based off the city-wide Pittsburgh Street Stewards but in smaller footprint, within the boundaries of Shadyside, one of 90 neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. About the same time I also began a personal project called the Report Card Project. I'm slowly, systematically cleaning every block of my Pittsburgh neighborhood Shadyside and grading properties as I go to find out where most of the litter is coming from!
Collect trash as art or make art from trashFree material, less landfillEvery place has slightly different trash. When trash-nabbing you might find some treasure or other litter that speaks to you and could be a cool collection or material for an art project. The possibilities are endless. I've both collected trash to turn into art as well as photographed trash (and then thrown it away). Follow other artists who use trash as a muse and find ways to share your art with the message and awareness about choices we have to make less trash and make more things that last or can be reused.
One trash photography I project I did for about a year is photograph Whatawaste (trash from the Whataburger fast food restaurant) on the streets of San Antonio. I took 200 photographs and shared them at whatawaste_satx on Instagram and coordinated a local show at the community college.
Another trash art project evolved after I found a cool ladybug ball, but it was too beat up to pass on to a kid, so I kept it and started collecting other lost balls found on the streets of San Antonio during my regular trash walks. (You wouldn't believe how many balls get lost!). Once I had collected about 150 balls I used the found balls to create art and staged an outdoor show. The Garden Goof Ball art show had 10 flowers and characters on view in the front gardens of the Eco Centro resource center.
Find more about my Trashy art shows and projects under number 6 on the Community Work/Project page.