069 Turning Waste Into Art Through Upcycling

If you have the soul of an artist, perhaps the symbolism represented by the countless varieties of waste produced by humanity every day inspires you? Here is an idea that may seem strange to some, but the concept already exists and even works very well in some countries. So, if I’ve piqued your curiosity with this intro, let’s see in more detail how you could start in this rather particular artistic discipline and, by the way, earn money with your works.

What does it involve?

As you know, waste pollution is nowadays everywhere on land and at sea, and it is a subject that regularly comes back to the center of the debates. The waste that the consumer society generates is extremely numerous and varied, to the point of becoming very worrying in certain corners of the planet like Asia or the Pacific Ocean. Many citizens who are aware of the problem are sorting their waste and recovering what they can, but some artists go further in this concept and have undertaken to reuse their waste to create works of art!

This crazy and far from ridiculous idea was born in 2002, with the release of William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book, Cradle to Cradle: redesigning the way we do things. This book talks about the need to rethink the way we design, produce and consume products in order to reduce our environmental impact and create a sustainable circular economy, and devotes a few pages to the idea of transforming waste of all kinds (paper, cardboard, wood, plastic, glass, metal…) into various artistic creations. The concept can be expressed through painting, sculpture, scrapbooking… and even fashion! And a lot of artists from all horizons have already started to do it as we will see later.

Who can do it?

As I explained in the introduction, this idea is primarily aimed at artists, but can it work for those who are only interested in the money it could bring? Maybe, yes. After all, only the result counts, right? If you manage to create a work that aesthetically resembles something and that the public likes, I don’t see what the problem is.

And then, who knows, maybe this activity will awaken the artist who has been sleeping in you for so many years? But beware—the life of an artist is not always simple. You will have to be ready to face the difficulties inherent to this type of activity: the moments when inspiration is absent, the periods when sales are difficult, facing the critics… But anyway, if you have the motivation, it will certainly remain an enriching experience.

Almost anyone can start this idea, but for your creations to have a minimum of success, it is crucial that you have at least a minimum of aesthetic sense and especially the motivation to create things with your own hands. Without this, you risk producing only works that will remain anonymous forever, and eventually give up rather quickly.

Some examples of artists

Many artists use this concept and some have even become quite famous in the contemporary art world thanks to it. This is for example the case of the following artists:

  • Chie Hitotsuyama, a Japanese sculptor who uses newspaper to create life-size animal sculptures!
  • Hannah Tizedes, who became known thanks to her mosaics made of garbage she found on the beaches.
  • Nick Gentry, who had the idea to make collages and portraits with old records and camera films!
  • Veronika Richterova, a Czech artist who uses plastic bottles to create plants, animals, or chandeliers.
  • Le Project Vortex, a collective of 27 artists who collect plastic waste from the oceans to give it a second life, this time artistic.

Most of them have chosen this artistic approach because it allows them to raise awareness of the problem of waste pollution, on land and in the oceans, and to promote a more responsible consumption. An honorable motivation that has earned them a certain success with the public.

A whale made from plastic waste This whale was made by StudioKCA from plastic waste found in the Pacific Ocean, It’s meant to raise awareness of the large amount of plastics in the waters of the world. Utrecht, Pays-Bas. Photo by harry_nl

Which material to choose?

There are many materials that can be used to create artworks from waste found at sea and on land. However, one must consider the nature of each material, and the techniques needed to be able to work with them. Here are some examples:

  • Plastic is a versatile material that can be melted and molded into different shapes, cut, and glued to create sculptures, installations, jewelry, and other decorative objects.
  • Metal can also be worked in a variety of ways to create works of art, such as sculpting, welding, and engraving. Metal can be salvaged from waste materials such as cans, food wrappers, and machine parts.
  • Cardboard and paper are common materials that can be found in many types of waste, such as boxes, newspapers and magazines. These materials can be cut, folded, glued, and painted to create sculptures, installations and other decorative objects.

So that was for the basic materials, but there are also more specific waste materials such as glass bottles, aluminium cans, tires, fishing nets, corks, etc.

The variety of waste that can be found is truly immense, but there are even more ways to create a work of art. It’s up to you to use your imagination and create objects that are original, pleasing to the eye or just eye-catching.

How and where to find materials to work with?

You could simply start by working with the scraps you produce yourself, but if you don’t produce enough or your project is related to specific scraps, know that there are several ways to find materials for your creations:

  • Collecting in nature: This is probably the most environmentally friendly way to practice your art. You can walk around natural areas or beaches to collect materials such as driftwood, plastic waste, or anything else that the wind or tide has put in your path.
  • Collecting in landfills: You can find them in recycling centers and waste treatment centers, where aluminum cans, plastic bottles, tires, pieces of metal, old electronics, textiles are available…
  • Exchange with other artists or artisans: You can exchange materials with other artists or artisans who also work with various waste materials. You can find artist groups and communities on social networks (Facebook groups, Pinterest…), online forums, or at local art events.
  • Shopping at thrift stores: You will also find interesting things at secondhand or secondhand stores, such as clothes, accessories, toys and furniture that you can take apart to salvage materials.
  • Online shopping: You can find a wide variety of materials on online shopping sites such as eBay, Amazon, Alibaba or Etsy. Look for sellers who offer recycled or upcycled materials. Also consider running a quick Google search.

Attention! Always be sure to take safety precautions when collecting materials by wearing gloves and avoiding hazardous materials (radioactive, toxic, etc.). Also, be sure to follow local rules and regulations on material collection.

Pinterest If you are looking for inspiration, you will find it on Pinterest

How do you get started?

I think the first thing to do is to choose the material you want to work with, and this choice will probably be influenced by the fight you want to put up or simply by the type of waste you are most indignant about. But in case your choice will be only aesthetic or practical, or for some other reason you can’t decide, test different materials and see which one you like the most or suits your artistic style best.

You will then need to find a place to work quietly. A large enough workshop or a smaller studio would be perfect, but if you don’t have the budget and/or your creations are not too large or incommodant, you can also work at home in a small corner of your apartment or house.

Then, once you’ve created your first few pieces, take pictures of them and share them on social media (Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook) or even videos that you post on TikTok, YouTube, etc. This is a great way to get your name out there, but more importantly, it’s a great way to gauge the public’s reaction. Be careful because criticism can sometimes be quite violent (especially on Twitter), but rather than getting offended, try to learn from it and rework your creations if you feel it is necessary.

Also, try to participate in contemporary art competitions as well as any other cultural event that fits the theme of your work. And if you find that people like what you do, contact art galleries, museums, or even your local administration in order to be exposed. Also consider contacting associations that fight for the preservation of the environment and see if they are interested.

Otherwise, there are also online sales platforms. It is probably less “prestigious”, but you will be able to find buyers interested in your art more quickly. Some of these platforms include Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, but also Etsy, a marketplace that allows artisans and artists from all over the world to sell their handmade and vintage products or artwork, online.

But whatever the means you choose, always remember to explain your approach, what your fight is, what you denounce through your works… because it will have a greater impact on the public and especially a greater echo with the media and the regional or even international press, perhaps. Insist also on the fact that your art contributes to give a new life to old objects that otherwise would have ended up in nature.

Tips for creating and selling your work

  • Watch out for odors: The materials you use can sometimes give off unpleasant or incommodant odors. Clean them well before using them and make sure the odors are gone.
  • Avoid buying your garbage: If you have the choice, avoid paying for garbage and especially avoid having it sent to you from the other side of the world as this would be in contradiction with your ecological approach.
  • Be creative and original: Use your creativity to create unique and original works of art that stand out from others on the market. Try experimenting with different materials and techniques to create works that are unlike any other.
  • Présentez vos œuvres de manière professionnellePresent your work professionally: Photograph it with good light and a neat background. Create a detailed and accurate description of your work to help buyers understand your work.
  • Find your niche: Try to find a niche that sets you apart from other artists working with trash. For example, if you create jewelry, you might specialize in creating jewelry out of bottle caps.
  • Be consistent: Make sure your artwork has some aesthetic consistency, using similar materials and colors to create a collection that complements each other. This can help establish a consistent artistic identity and thus attract a loyal audience.
  • Think about utility: Think about creating objects that have a purpose, such as furniture, wall decorations, fashion accessories, or jewelry. Buyers will be more likely to purchase art that has practical functionality and not just decorative.


This is an original idea, which will allow you to express your talent while doing the planet a favor. For some, working with waste materials may seem daunting at first, or even totally disgusting, but for others it can be a source of endless inspiration and creativity. By using recycled materials, artists can create unique works that raise awareness about the problems associated with our consumption patterns, and send an important message about environmental sustainability.

Ultimately, creating this kind of art is a way to rethink our relationship with materials that we often think of as waste, and transform them into something beautiful, useful, and meaningful. It is a practice that can inspire, not only artists but anyone concerned with reducing their impact on the environment and promoting a circular economy.


Environmental and climate change issues are more than ever at the heart of the concerns of this 21st century, which is why I am proposing a few ideas that will enable you to limit the negative impact that the implementation of this idea could have.

These solutions that I suggest are sometimes largely insufficient to compensate for these negative impacts, such as carbon offsetting. Unfortunately, there is not always an ideal and 100% efficient solution, far from it. And if you have others, please do not hesitate to share them in the comments below.

The great advantage of this idea is that you will not lack raw material, considering the astronomical amount of waste that is dumped every day in the environment—and the oceans in particular. Because, according to the earth.org website, more than 300 million tons of plastic waste are generated every year in the world. And here we are talking only about plastic!

This idea that I am proposing today will obviously not solve this colossal problem on its own, but it can perhaps help to raise awareness among a wider public on this crucial issue.

The advice I can give you to limit your environmental impact is quite basic. Start by collecting waste close to your home, if possible, but avoid making it travel thousands of kilometers to get to your home. Also, try to use glues, paints, or similar products that are environmentally friendly. Then, avoid toxic materials (radioactive, asbestos, lead, etc.).


  • A rewarding artistic activity that benefits the planet
  • Walks in nature in search of free materials
  • Waste that will end up in artworks rather than in nature
  • You participate in the circular economy


  • Beware of toxic materials
  • Sometimes difficult to break into the art world

Disclaimer, please read this Legal and administrative aspects of the ideas you'll find on Sweekr are rarely discussed because they vary greatly depending on the country you live in. I would advise you to check with your local government before starting any business. Keep in mind that if you make money, the state will ask for "its share" in order to guarantee the proper functioning of schools, hospitals and other public services. Therefore, you will probably have to acquire a micro-entrepreneur status, or any other similar.
Also, be aware that this post may contain affiliate links, and I may get compensated a commission at no extra cost to you if you click on the affiliate links and subsequently make a purchase. This will help maintain the site, so thank you.

This article could be completed or improved with your help. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any question, a relevant remark, a feedback, additional information or spotted any error.Go to comments


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