Overflowing landfills are a global crisis, yet a culture of disposable convenience persists.
Most of what gets tossed can be recycled or upcycled into art and everyday essentials. Let’s get creative and rethink what we throw away!
The Compostess asks: How can we inspire people to see trash as treasure?
Nina Boesch answers: Having grown up in Bremen, Germany, I am now lucky enough to call New York City my home. Here, public transportation is not only the cheapest but also the fastest method of transportation. I first entered a New York subway station in the summer of 2001, and I quickly came to the conclusion that I had seen few places in my life that were dirtier. In a place with about 8 million people, over 650 subway stations and around 4 million subway riders per day, it is hard to believe that New York still uses disposable subway tickets that create a trash-patchwork on the floors of most subway stations.
For over 10 years now, I have been venturing to turn this very iconic type of trash into treasure. Besides my day job, I am an artist and turn used and disposed MetroCards into artworks. I cut up old MetroCards into small pieces, sort them by color and create mosaic-like collages with them. The motifs I choose are directly linked to the city scenes that inspire me: landmarks, portraits, objects, people, architecture, you name it. I estimate that, over the years, I have cleared the subway stations of 50,000 used cards in order to create my artworks. Most of my artworks contain between 25 and 500 tickets. The front of the MetroCard is yellow, orange, blue and black, while the back varies in color but usually includes black and white advertising. This rather limited color palette gives my body of work a very distinct look and feel, while it still allows me to create any motif that comes to mind.
Since the medium is the message in my recycled art venture, I care about the distinct origins of the expired, useless tickets that find new life in my work. I want people to wonder where a ticket came from, who tossed it, and what the destination of its owner was. This curiosity is only preserved in the original pieces of MetroCards, and they would lose their power if reproduced.
Fortunately, my art has inspired other New Yorkers to see a value in what most people consider trash. I frequently receive MetroCard donations from random strangers who care about making our city cleaner and better–who are motivated to turn trash into treasure. While I am strictly focussing on New York’s subway cards, I have experienced similar recycled art potential in other cities and other mediums. Moscow’s metro system, for example, also still sells disposable tickets that are scattered all over the metro stations. The same goes for Hamburg’s S-Bahn and a majority of other large cities’ bus systems. Maybe these cities don’t need to rethink their public transportation ticketing system–maybe they just need more artists.