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maker playground

wonders from waste | all ages

Draw inspiration from artists who create beautiful art pieces from material that is usually thought of as trash.


We throw so many things out everyday: plastic wrappers, bottles, food scraps, tin foil, cardboard. In fact the average American produces almost 4.5 pounds of trash each day! Some of the waste we produce comes from food and other compostable materials, but the majority of the waste we produce just ends up in landfills.

What if we didn’t throw all our waste away?

Artists all over the world find ways to repurpose what would otherwise be garbage into beautiful (and sometimes useful!) items. Artist Lauren Purnell turns food scraps into delicate nature scenes while Erika Iris creates portraits of musical artists using the material found in old cassette tapes.

Not all recycled art is two dimensional. ThingThing, an arts collective from Detroit, reuses plastic scraps from a variety of everyday materials like milk bottles, sand castle molds, straws, and shopping bags to create beautiful and interesting sculptures. Some of these items become useful objects like lamp shades, tables, and seating, but others are reimagined solely as colorful, whimsical art pieces.

You can explore ThingThing’s Rainbro sculpture when you come into KID Museum, or take a look at other ThingThing pieces in their online gallery.

Watch ThingThing’s process of turning everyday plastics into artful items!


Grinding up and melting plastic like the artists in ThingThing requires a lot of special tools and safety equipment, but there are plenty of ways to create art from items that would have otherwise ended up in the trash.

Create an art object by rescuing material from your trash and recycling, but be sure to wash it first! Stained or torn clothes can be used for textile art while things like bottle caps, magazines, and tin foil can become the body of a sculpture. Take the materials you find and reimagine them as something completely new that exists in the world solely to be beautiful. Let your imagination guide you!

  • As you think of what you might create, consider the following questions:
  • What colors do I want to feature and in what materials can I most easily find them?
  • How will I cut, shape and arrange my pieces to create the shape I want for my sculpture?
  • What tools and other materials will I need to help me build my artwork?


Once you have collected your materials and come up with an idea, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to build your sculpture or art piece. Some materials work better when they are built around a form. This is called an armature. You can think of it as the core around which the sculpture is built, like your skeleton supports your body! When artists use materials that are thin like papier mache, or wet and heavy like clay, they create these forms to help give them shape and stop them from collapsing in on themselves. Using a core inside your sculpture also helps you use less sculpting material.

This video shows two different methods for creating a form for your piece, both using discarded or recycled material. Paper armatures work best for light sculptures or papier mache, while wire (you can use an old metal hanger for bigger pieces or paper clips for small sculptures) is better for heavier or larger works of art.

Make sure you send us a photo of your design to so we can feature your creation on our website or social media pages.