Can waste become art? How does discarded material have a chance to become art and influence society? In this text, we explored these issues in detail: the relationship between waste and art.

To understand what is the relationship between waste and art, let's start by understanding that art alone has a great power of transformation. Whether in society or in the lives of people individually. Therefore, it can also change the direction of waste. How? We explain!

The documentary “Waste Land” (Lixo Extraordinário) is a good example. The work shows these issues very well, because it narrates the lives of people being changed through the transformation of waste into art. In the documentary, the artist Vik Muniz develops a beautiful work with a group of recyclable material collectors. The story takes place in the largest controlled landfill in the world that is in the peripheral neighborhood Jardim Gramacho, located in the city of Duque de Caxias, in Brazil.

Vik Muniz brings to the agenda the problem of garbage in society, in addition to showing how difficult the life of waste pickers is. The documentary followed for two years the unfolding of the work done — that at the beginning had only as proposal the production of portraits of the collectors who work at the landfill, but which ended up taking on another meaning due to Muniz's artistic gaze.

The documentary development time allowed to follow the transformation of the worldview of seven collectors who participated the project. The work involving art and waste resulted in several awards such as “Best International Documentary”, at the Sundance Festival; “Amnesty International's Prize”, at the Berlin Festival and also nomination for the “Best Documentary”, at the 83th Oscar’s edition.

How to combine art and recycling

Art is very versatile. It can be combined with psychological, psychiatric and other health care. It can be explored together with education and even related to the environment. With recycling it could not be different: it is possible to combine it with art.

This combination is so possible and real that there is a whole artistic movement: upcycled art. which is when waste turns into art. Whether it's a plastic bottle, glass, tires, CDs or other materials, waste can be converted into art through recycling. And the results are enriching. After all, something that could simply occupy more space in a landfill or even end up floating in the sea, becomes a work with concept, beauty and function.

Converting waste into art is what upcycled art is based on: a form of sustainable artistic expression. Besides producing beautiful works — surprising for its great originality — the upcycled art pieces carry a message of denunciation, which communicates the degradation that the planet suffers due to human action. The possibilities are so many that the limit is defined by the artist's imagination.

Later on, we will talk a little more about the power of art to invest in a culture of sustainability and conscious social well-being, which does not need to devastate the planet in an overwhelming way, as we see today.

Art in the struggle for sustainability

Upcycled Art, as already mentioned, is an artistic movement that synthesizes very well what art is in the struggle for sustainability. Our society produces a huge amount of waste every day. Recycling has become a fundamental way to mitigate the effects of this excessive production as well as to protect the environment.

Before this scenario, two aspects of recycling emerge: infra recycling and supra recycling.

Infra recycling

In infra-recycling, the destructive cycle is slower and what is created with it loses a little quality during the process. An example of this is recycled paper that does not have the same quality as new paper.

Supra recycling

Upcycled art emerges in the terms of supra recycling. The waste that would be discarded with a degrading or even recyclable destination gains another opportunity. That's where upcycled art comes in. In the supra recycling, things gain value due to the intervention of creativity. Therefore, next, we will present some artists who transform waste into art, creating works within the upcycled art movement.

4 artists from upcycled art

Nelson Molina

For 34 years, Molina worked for the sanitation department. During that time, Molina had the habit of finding many valuable items in the trash. They were old toys, paintings, prizes, antiques and so on. All this material that was simply garbage was organized by the artist in an improvised museum in a warehouse.

All of his finds were organized to narrate decades of interesting things that people in New York threw away. To check out this work visit "Treasures in the Trash" and watch the documentary that chronicles Nelson's achievement.

Matt Lorenz

Through a project called The Suitcase Junket, Matt Lorenz formed a band in which he is the only human member. The rest of the band is made up of recycled materials. A musician who managed to extract beautiful sounds from things considered waste. Even his eletric guitar was found in a trash can. His work is available on music platforms. You can also check out the project by visiting, The Suitcase Junket.

Floyd Elzinga

With over 15 years of experience in 3D sculpture and highlight installations, Floyd has made steel into treasure. Exploring traditional metalworking techniques, he created textures and depths in the same way as painting with brushes. Its themes focus on fragmented landscapes, portraits of trees and the aggressive nature of seeds.

Michelle Reader

Michelle is a sculptor who takes the reuse of waste materials in her work. She has been developing this type of art since 1997. Sometimes, her sculptures have mechanical elements where she uses functional parts of old toys, watches or other types of objects.

Through upcycled art, she makes recycled and sustainable sculptures for organizations. Often these sculptures are created with garbage that involves the organization in question, a great way to recycle with awareness and creativity.


These are just a few of many artists who chose to turn waste into art and today have a renowned work in the artistic world. Before, materials that would simply be discarded, become true masterpieces in the hands of great artists.

Art and waste can generate great results, since art alone has an enormous transformation power. Combined with a practice like recycling, it can become a great tool in the search for a more sustainable society.

We hope that this text has broadened your view on the issue of waste disposal and recycling. Certainly, in your city there is someone who works with handicrafts from discarded materials, pieces with cans, bottles, disposables and many other types of materials.

Therefore, if you liked the theme, and want to do something for sustainability, encourage this practice by purchasing this type of work, or collaborating with projects and artists in this field.