From trash to treasure: Magic Gardens event encourages recycling through creativity

The artist, in a pink T-shirt in the center, holds up plastic recycled art while two people, backs to the camera, listen.

Plastic waste can be diverted from landfills in many ways — including making art out of it. Some Philadelphians learned how to do this Sunday at PECO Family Jam at Philadelphia Magic Gardens on South Street. Participants were shown how to create art using plastic caps from containers such as peanut butter jars, laundry detergent, and water bottles.

A child looks closely at a plastic sculpture.
A child learns how to use recycled plastics to make art at an event at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on August 14, 2022. (Cory Sharber/WHYY News)

Co-organizer Ricky Boscarino owns Luna Parc in Sandyston, N.J. He said he got the idea around eight years ago when he started hanging garden ornaments made out of plastic bottle caps around his home studio and began to ask people to send in their used plastic for the project.

He ended up receiving hundreds of pounds of plastic caps, which he said altered his view on how plastics are being used throughout communities.

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“For the hundreds and hundreds of pounds that I’ve acquired just over a few months, that’s just mind boggling,” Boscarino said.  “And I have so many now, I could use a shed, a separate shed, two houses, and this is only me. This is only one person. We have millions and millions of households and institutions and restaurants all throwing away hundreds and hundreds of pounds of these, so it’s really a tragedy.”

A close up of many different colors of plastic bottle caps thrown together.
A pile of plastic caps lies on the ground at The Philadelphia Magic Gardens event on August 14, 2022. (Cory Sharber/WHYY News)

Boscarino hopes these simple crafts make people aware of how much plastic can be diverted from landfills. And he said that in addition to the environmental impact, the crafts can spark creativity for people who may not have been exposed to art before, or lack access to crafting materials.

“Here’s something that is literally free,” Boscarino said. “So this could definitely inspire someone to create art and to think of maybe their world in a new way and maybe even clean up their streets. So it could kind of facilitate a lot of different philosophies for someone.”

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More than 40% of all plastic made is packaging, which is used only once or twice before being thrown away. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, it takes 450 years for plastic bottles to biodegrade.

Recycling rates in the U.S. have stagnated over the past decade at around 30% to 35% across all materials.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2018 that only 8.5% of plastic waste was recovered to produce new products.

A report released in 2021 found that 20 companies accounted for more than half of all single-use plastic waste generated worldwide.

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