10 of the World’s Most Radical Recycling Projects

In our modern throwaway society, many perfectly good materials end up sitting in a landfill while new materials are constantly created and used in their place. Some creative green builders, artists, scientists and other innovators are turning the tables on that trend, gathering up all the discarded odds and ends they can find to create stunning homes, temples, sculpture and even fuel. Here are 10 examples of incredibly creative recycling projects that convert ordinary objects into art and transform trash into something far more useful.

Buddhist Temple Made of Beer Bottles

(images via: Green Upgrader)

The Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple in the Sisaket province of Thailand is made from over one million recycled green and brown glass beer bottles. The monks accomplished two goals in one by cleaning up local pollution and creating a useful structure for themselves. Everything from the water tower to the tourist bathroom is made from Heineken and Chang beer bottles.

Bridge Made of Recycled Paper Tubes

(images via: Shigeru Ban Architects)

Japanese architect Shigeru Ban constructed a bridge over the Gardon River in southern France using primarily cardboard tubes. Ban, who was already known for using eco-friendly, lightweight materials, said that he wanted to show people that paper can be strong and lasting. Fragile though this paper bridge may look, it could hold up to 20 people at once. The bridge was open to the public for six months in 2007 before being disassembled for the rainy season.

Rich Art’s Recycled Outdoor Gallery

(images via: Ruby Re-Usable)

Outsider artist Richard Tracy – known as Rich Art – has been turning trash into spectacular sculptures for 20 years. Tracy picks through neighbors’ trash in hopes of finding some discarded item that might serve as the inspiration for a new addition to his sprawling outdoor art gallery, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. Styrofoam, tomato cages, roller skates and tea carts have been spared a lifetime in the landfill by their inclusion in this wacky gallery.

Shipping Containers as Sleek, Modern Homes

(images via: SculpIT)

They may be ugly, rectangular, often rusting boxes, but with a little ingenuity and care shipping containers can be transformed into beautiful, functional modern homes. There’s a huge surplus of empty shipping containers around the country due to the fact that it’s too expensive for countries to ship empty containers back to where they came from. The photo above shows four stacked shipping containers put together for office and living space by architects Pieter Peelings and Silvia Mertens. Want more? Check out an entire gallery of cargo container homes.

Jumbo Jet Hostel

(images via: Jumbo Jet Hostel)

A jumbo jet that had seen better days sat unused on the runway at the Arlanda Airport in Sweden until an intrepid businessman decided he had an ideal use for it. Oscar Diös turned the 1976 Boeing 747-200 into a hostel, citing the need for inexpensive lodging and lack of affordable land near the airport. The interior was dismantled, sanitized and divided into 25 rooms along with a café. The rooms are officially available to book starting mid-January 2009 for about $45 USD per night.

HA Schult’s ‘Trash People’

(images via: HA Schult Online)

From this collection of recycled art, the ‘trash people’ created by HA Schult are truly amazing. Along with 30 assistants, Schult created these sorta creepy sculptures from crushed cans, computer parts and anything else he could get his hands on. The 50 life-size figures have traveled the world, from the Pyramids of Giza to the Great Wall of China as an art installation meant to provoke thought about the amount of garbage we humans create and how it affects the world.

Upcycled Dresses Made of Maps and Coffee Filters

(images via: Susan Stockwell)

They may not actually be wearable, but these diaphanous, delicate dresses made of recycled paper certainly are stunning. London-based artist Susan Stockwell likes the original purpose of her materials to be obvious, thus the use of dirty coffee filters, used tea bags and worn maps. The dresses boast details like rosettes, sashes and ruffled collars and call to mind the fashions of centuries past. It’s an interesting display of ‘upcycling’, the practice of taking something disposable and transforming it into something of greater value.

Dr. Evermor’s ‘Forevertron’ Scrap Metal Park

(images via: Madolan + Dr. Evermor)

The world’s largest scrap metal sculpture can be found at Dr. Evermor’s “park” in Wisconsin. It’s 50 feet tall, 120 feet wide, 60 feet deep and weighs 320 tons and is made entirely of salvaged pieces of machinery between 50 and 100 years old. Among its components are a decontamination chamber from the Apollo space mission and a pair of bipolar electric dynamos made by Thomas Edison. The park also has many more recycled sculptures including a band of birds, some of which actually play music. Dr. Evermor – real name Tom Every – has been collecting scrapped machines and other mechanical bits and pieces for decades.

Dirty Diapers Transformed into Diesel

(image via: Sean Dreilinger)

Disposable diapers pile up in landfills fast, to the tune of 21 billion annually in the US alone. While many more parents are beginning to choose cloth and other alternatives, a Quebec company called AMEC has come up with an innovative way to deal with a good chunk of the disposables that would otherwise end up in the trash: turning them into diesel fuel. It can be done through a process called pyrolysis, which involves heating the diapers up in an enclosed, controlled environment. AMEC expects to gain about 11,000 tons of diesel fuel from the first 30,000 diapers converted. Due to the closed system, there are no emissions and experts say as the process improves, it could very well become an economically viable form of fuel.

Nek Chand’s Industrial Waste Rock Garden

(images via: Iain Jackson)

What began as a rock garden in Chandigarh, India quickly became a showcase of art made from recycled materials collected by artist Nek Chand from demolition sites around the city. Chand’s rock garden grew into a 12-acre complex of courtyards filled with hundreds of his sculptures of dancers, animals and musicians. The Rock Garden still collects recycled materials, especially rags and ceramics, from around the city.


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