Recycling Renegade: Guns Melted for Tree-Planting Shovels

The efforts we make to recycle on a daily basis are rather abstract; we may know that some good comes of recycling, but we are rarely able to see it in action. Artist Pedro Reyes came up with an astonishingly effective way of connecting recycling with its end result – and he did it by taking more than 1500 guns off of the streets of one crime-riddled Mexican city.

Reyes put out a call for guns in the western Mexican city of Culiacán. The city has a higher rate of gun deaths than any other in the country, making it an ideal place to focus on for this project. By offering coupons good for electronics and appliances in exchange for firearms, Reyes was able to collect 1527 guns. The project, called Palas por Pistolas (which translates somewhat awkwardly to “Blades for Guns”) was meant to show that items associated with death and pain can be recycled into items that promote life and beauty.

The project came about when the Culiacán botanical garden accepted Reyes’ proposal as part of their artist commission series. After consulting with the families of gun and drug crime victims in the city, the artist realized that his project should focus on making the streets safer while beautifying the city at the same time. Decommissioning guns and giving them new lives was the perfect way to accomplish both.

After the guns were collected, a public event was held for the symbolic crushing of the weapons. They were all piled up so that a steamroller could run over them, then the bits were sent to a foundry to be melted down. The metal was then forged into shovel blades and wooden handles – with the entire story of the project on them – were attached. From the 1527 guns collected, 1527 shovels were created. They were distributed to public schools, community groups and art institutions where they will be used to plant 1527 trees. The once-violent weapons were turned into tools that will change the world in a positive way for generations to come – that is absolutely the best application of recycling we’ve ever seen.