Getting TRASHed Constructively
They’ve been to Coachella, the X Games, the White House, and even Hollywood’s red carpet. Artist Reneé Lawter has photographic evidence of where hers has been, “I have a picture of Eva Longoria and Jessica Simpson sort of confused looking at it.” The “they” and “it” in this case are the custom-made recycling bins that artists like Lawter have been creating through TRASHed :: Art of Recycling for nearly half a decade.
TRASHed :: Art of Recycling is a program that Los Angeles-based nonprofit Global Inheritance started in 2002 after Eric Ritz, the group’s Executive Director, noticed people at concerts and festivals weren’t really recycling. “We were trying to come up with a way to make it more engaging,” he explains, “and make people want to recycle.” Two ideas were born from that brainstorm. The first was a trash-recycling store in which the only currency accepted was bottles and cans collected on-site, and the second was TRASHed. Ritz notes, “TRASHed actually stands for Trash Education.” What the group does is take recycling bins and use them as canvases. “We design them based on either artwork, or themed along an event, and get people to want to engage with them. So rather than having your normal green or black bin that doesn’t really say much, we’ve created this collection of recycling bins that speak to the audience and make people want to interact and recycle in a way that maybe they didn’t think about before.”
Lawter joined up with TRASHed because she knew Ritz from their days at working at JNCO together. She now runs her own design business called Eyerus with two other partners in West Hollywood, but doesn’t get to do a lot of artwork there as she focuses more on the business side of things. The allure of TRASHed was one part Ritz, whom Lawter saw, and continues to see, as “really making a push to do something different,” and one part her wanting to do art again. “I decided I needed to get back into art because I was missing doing that,” she explains. “At the same time, Eric was looking for artists and had asked me if I wanted to do a trash bin, and I thought ‘God, yeah, that’s amazing.’ ” The reaction to the idea has been similar with other artists and would-be recyclers.
Jasmin Zeger, Special Projects Coordinator at Global Inheritance, has a theory as to why the artistic bins draw in so many people. “Anytime you can harness the ability of a creative talent to speak to the public, you know it’s gonna be popular. The art on the bins really draws your attention to them and once we’ve got people there we can really discuss the other levels of the program with them. There’s no way if you see a fuzzy bin with ladybugs on it that you’re not gonna stop and be like ‘What is this? Maybe I should rethink throwing this bottle in the trash.’ ” Jenna Eyrich, Global Inheritance’s Coordinator of Music Projects, adds, “At these festivals you also have a crowd that’s more inclined to be artistic, or willing to notice things like that, so when they go up to this art piece they realize that it’s a recycling bin, which adds a whole other dimension to the experience.”
The experience for Lawter and the other artists is that of being creative while making a difference. “Even if it’s only with me being creative,” she notes, “it still means something. To me that was the biggest thing. I paint all the time, but when I paint for a nonprofit it’s a pretty amazing feeling. You feel like you’re doing something on top of being creative. You’re doing something with your gift.” She adds that working with TRASHed has been especially rewarding because “we’re all used to seeing different organizations out there that deal with nonprofit, but sometimes I feel like they’re really kind of crunchy granola. I think people are eager to have information like this provided to them in a sort of hip way.”
If travel miles are any indicator, Lawter’s very right in her assessment of what people want. TRASHed has done exhibits all over the country, including in its native California, New York, and Atlanta, and has even traveled across the northern border into Toronto. In 2006 the group did an exhibit at the Virgin Festival dedicated to the films of John Waters where they had cast members and set designers from his various films create bins based on Waters’ big-screen work. Afterwards, the bins were donated to an art school in Baltimore, which is an act Ritz sees a lot of value in, noting, “It makes the festival even more excited about the programs because it gives them the ability to leave a positive footprint after the festival is over.” Not only a positive footprint, but also much cleaner and more visually stimulating concert grounds!
words by adam bernard
Artists looking to get involved can find TRASHed at GlobalInheritance.org.
More of Reneé Lawter’s work can be seen at Idlego.com.