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One-Day/One-Event Recycled/Reused Materials Challenge

In the writeup for the Recycled Art Project, one of the categories is the One Day of Garbage award.  Participants are challenged to use only the (safe and non-biodegradable) garbage from any one day to make art out of garbage.  Any day will do, of course, but the garbage from “special” days can be even more fun.  I was inspired to write this page after Halloween (when I threw out candy wrappers – that weren’t foil – and fake spider webs) and right before Thanksgiving (as I was starting to make lists of unusual things to buy and cook).

Another advantage of doing this around a festival or party is that you could more easily make it into a group activity.


1) Announce in advance that this is something that could happen, so people can be prepared to open packages in a way that best preserves the reusability of materials.  Some folks might find themselves picking ingredients just for the packaging.  This is fine, as long as these decisions do not result in a whole lot more packaging than you would have had without the design challenge.  Also, you might want to have a separate bag for things to reuse, so that the gooey food-ridden stuff goes straight to the composter or other garbage and the (clean or cleaned) nifty potentially artsy stuff goes in the “what have we here?” bag/box.  People who prepare things to bring to the feast/event can even be encouraged to bring the (now empty) packaging from the ingredients they used to contribute to the pile.

2) If you want to include biodegradable or food-infused items, please be mindful that you will have to handle and dispose of them in a responsible manner.  Raw turkeys/chicken (and wrappers that used to house them, etc.) should be clean and clean hands thoroughly after handling them.  Food rots, folks, and animals like to eat things that still smell/taste like food (bones, for instance), so don’t leave your creations around for pets and uninvited critters to consume after the fact.  Take pictures and then recycle whatever you can and throw out the rest.

3) Actually, now that I mention it, take pictures no matter what.  Before and after photos, step-by-step process photos, all good.  I want to see what you make!  So use the form at the bottom of this page to send a post w/ images or just a description of what worked (or not).  And Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook are hankering for you to share your creations (you know they are…).

4) Putting stuff together: When you gather to turn your garbage into a holistic artistic expression of the fabulous feast/event you all have just experienced, you are encouraged to follow the usual Beyond Garbage rules of avoiding (where possible) using any “new” materials as adhesives or binding elements.  Between the string you tied the turkey legs together with and the mesh plastic bags that the onions came in (not to mention all the great tying material you can get out of turning plastic bags into strips and transforming aluminum cans into sharp-edged-but-secure fasteners) you should be fine with whatever you have gathered.  This is why forethought is important and creativity is paramount.  If you need tips about things you can do with specific materials, check out some of the materials pages on this blog (pie tins and other aluminum baking pans, styrofoam/packing peanuts, cardboard, plastic bags).

Here are some (I hope) helpful notes about common festivals and the materials they often produce:

Things that turn up all the time: Cans, plastic bottles, boxes, plastic bags, styrofoam fruit/vegetable/meat trays, mesh bags. Note that I do not list plastic water bottles, because I don’t even want to suggest that you should ever buy bottled water when filtering is an option.  But if you do, you know you can use those too.

A note about paper/plastic plates, cups, utensils: While using non-disposable plates, cups, and utensils, is always the better way to go from a save-the-world point of view, this is often too much to ask when the group is large.  SO…please choose the most compostable option and if you can’t just reuse them (really, washing cups and utensils is an option), think of them as potential art materials.

Thanksgiving: Pie tins, plastic bags (that once held frozen peas, chocolate chips, bread crumbs, ice), mesh bags (that once held potatoes – sweet or other, onions, oranges, nuts), cardboard boxes (that once held crackers, pasta, pretzels), twist ties, tin foil (from that roasted protein varietal), nut shells, soda cans.

Christmas/Hannukah: Do I really need to write these out? Wrapping paper/ribbons/old tape/envelopes and present packaging alone would be enough, but don’t forget present tags, bits of tinsel, candy wrappers, the tree lights that mysteriously broke between last year and this, Hannukah gelt foil wrappers.

Birthday/retirement/graduation parties and baby showers: Many of the items mentioned above, plus party hats that people are not going to take home, paper or plastic disposable table cloths, party decorations (those cardboard hanging lettered signs – shiny! sturdy!), old candles, cake boxes, soda cans/bottles.

Easter/Halloween: Candy wrappers, basket “grass,” cracked plastic eggs (reuse the uncracked ones next Easter – please!), lollipop sticks (from what “kids” got during trick-or-treating and egg hunts), plastic bags from jumbo size supplies of candy (that you so kindly handed out to the princesses and goblins), used fake spider webs, used cardboard (from the tombstones you put in your yard signifying the death of various financial institutions), ripped sheets (that served as a great costume this year but won’t make it to next year), streamers (if you had a party), toilet paper left behind by the latecomers who were pissed off that you ran out of candy before they got there.

Now, go have fun.

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