Recycled art for Marine Week

black and white image of wandering albatross on plastic trash
black and white image of wandering albatross printed on plastic trash

I’ve always loved recycled art and art that uses household or industrial discards as a medium. I credit one of my high school art teachers – she was passionate about recycling as art and petitioned our school district to allow her to teach it as a stand alone elective. They did not approve her petition, but she was undaunted and incorporated almost all of the projects and curriculum into her “regular” art class.

Fast forward to today and Paul at Wombwell’s Rainbow had a post over the weekend about National Marine Week in the UK, asking for art and poems to celebrate the different themes each day (not too late to join in, I think!). It inspired me to try some monoprint transfers of old sea-themed drawings onto trash and plastic waste to highlight the strange tension of how we revere and utterly trash our oceans simultaneously.

The first transfer was of a 1809 wandering albatross engraving by George Shaw onto plastic pipet inserts. These are for reloading pipet tips into boxes for micropipettes (which are devices used to measure tiny volumes very precisely in labs). They are used once and thrown away. The next one I tried was of 19th century etching of narwhals onto a used plastic food storage bag.

plastic food bag with black and white narwhal etching on front
close up of plastic food bag with black and white narwhal transfered on the front

It turns out all trash is not created equal for this technique! I also tried to transfer onto some tin cans but that didn’t work at all. My last successful print was of a 1921 etching of an oarfish by W.B. Robinson onto a foil cracker bag.


  1. It’s amazing how your wonderful images can make me feel so incredibly sad. Maybe I’m just feeling a bit down, today, but they do make me feel sad. And I’m thinking it’s a testament to the power of your work. Our society is built on the disposable. I’m going to go take my sad self for walk in the park.


    1. Thank you, Jilanne. I didn’t want to “like” you taking a sad walk in the park, but I know what you mean. The scale of the slow moving ecological disaster of waste in our world is overwhelming. I took those pipet tip inserts from a huge box overflowing with them that had been left out to be tossed. That’s just one lab in one building at one university…

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