Launch Slideshow

Texas turns trash into treasure

Texas turns trash into treasure

  • Houston residents are learning how the Solid Waste Management Department saves landfill space by gathering and giving excess construction materials to local artists. James Myress Tomato is made with wood from the departments Reuse Warehouse and paint from its Environmental Service Center.

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    Houston residents are learning how the Solid Waste Management Department saves landfill space by gathering and giving excess construction materials to local artists. James Myress Tomato is made with wood from the departments Reuse Warehouse and paint from its Environmental Service Center.

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    Houston Public Information Office

    Houston residents are learning how the Solid Waste Management Department saves landfill space by gathering and giving excess construction materials to local artists. James Myres’s “Tomato” is made with wood from the department’s Reuse Warehouse and paint from its Environmental Service Center.

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    Houston Public Works Public Information Office

    James Myres with his work “Tomato” made with wood obtained from the Reuse Warehouse and paint obtained from the Environmental Service Center South.

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    One of the man pieces of recycled art displayed at Transitions

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    Marilyn Leday (left) and Kiki Neumann show off some mirrors made with recycled license plates.

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    Stephanie Shroyer poses with some of her work from the Transitions exhibit.

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    Another piece of art by Houston artist Stephanie Shroyer.

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    "Night Ride” by Artist Robert Lanzini, made with reclaimed doors, resin and bicycle parts.

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    Sculpture made of salvaged steel by Jim Adams.

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    Steel sculpture by local artist Jim Adams.

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    Table and Chair at the Transitions-an Exploration of Recycled Art exhibit.

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Most people know you can recycle glass, plastic, and paper, but what about foam and concrete? Artists in Houston are “upcycling” such difficult-to-reuse refuse into sculptures, doors, mirrors, and other works of art.

It all started when Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) Public Information Officer Sandra Jackson decided that some art would look nice in the lobby of the Bob Lanier Public Works building. Public Works and Engineering Deputy Assistant Director Dave Buster jumped on the opportunity.

The first exhibit was a collection of decorated doors. Keith Koski, who runs SMWD’s Reuse Warehouse, sent Jackson photos of doors that had been decorated by local artist Charles Washington. Launched in 2009, the warehouse offers new and used building materials donated by suppliers and builders to non-profit organizations for free.

As examples of “creative upcycling,” Jackson thought the doors would be great publicity for Public Works and Solid Waste Management; and she was right. The departments got such positive feedback that there have been four more exhibitions:

  • Transitions – an Exploration of Recycled Art, which was coordinated and curated by the Center for Recycled Art. In addition to the warehouse, artists were asked to use materials from SWDM’s Environmental Service Center (ESC) South.
  • Reconstruction, also organized by the Center for Recycled Art.
  • Holiday Trees in partnership with the City Gardens Group.
  • The fifth exhibition was a series of 96-gallon recycling carts that had been decorated by teams of middle and high school students. Container manufacturer Toter, donated the carts and prize money. The carts have appeared at a career day, a Houston Rockets game, and Earth Day Houston.
Like the trash it’s made from, the artwork is being used in new capacities. Some are on permanent display at ESC South. The doors from the first project are at the local library.

Jackson credits SWMD Director Harry Hayes with much of the program’s success, describing him as a big believer in art and partnering with the community. “His management style is A.R.T.: accountability, responsibility, and teamwork,” she says.

SWMD Division Manager Marilyn Leday advises those interest to just jump in. “It’ll snowball,” she says. “A lot of things that could have another life are discarded. It only takes one person to come up with the idea, and then others will join in.”

Kelley Lindsey