Posted August 27th 2012 at 11:35 am by
in Art

Turning Trash into Treasure at Recology in San Francisco

• KRISTEN WATKINS is a Sustainability Program Specialist at Recology in San Francisco, and an MIT Alum.

Remember that pencil you threw away, or the old mat­tress you just wanted to get out of your house? Did you think it would go straight to the landfill? If you live in San Fran­cisco, think again. The Artist in Residence Program at Recology San Francisco offers six artists per year the opportunity to make trash into treasure. Recology is a resource recovery company in San Francisco that collects all household recyclables, composta­bles, and in total offers about 20 different ways to get rid of what most consider trash.

Paper Radio No. 2 : The Trash Issue

Artists collect their materials from this dump. All photos by Kristen Watkins.

Through working closely with the city of San Francisco, Recology has helped the city reach a nation-leading 77% diversion from landfill in 2010. The Art­ist in Residence program is one more way that Recology is pioneering new programs in the resource recovery industry. Resource recovery differs from waste management because it approaches the waste stream as resources that can be separated and recovered instead of being collected and bur­ied or burned.

Paper Radio No. 2 : The Trash Issue

Materials recovered from the dump.

Both current artists and alumni utilize the studio space ad­jacent to the San Francisco transfer station – the last stop for waste before it goes to a landfill – to make their creations from what others are throwing away. Artists collect materials from the public disposal area at the transfer station facility and bring materials back to their studios. They even scour the trash for pencils, paint, and glue since they aren’t al­lowed to use any outside materials.

Following the work of one artist in residence, Reddy Lieb, the program has continued to make beautiful glass bowls. The glass pieces used to make these bowls come from old Muni bus shelters that have been vandalized beyond repair. The kiln, designed by previous program participant Penelo­pe Starr, is made from old bed frames and special electric coils.

Paper Radio No. 2 : The Trash Issue

Broken glass from Muni bus shelter.

Current artist Amy Wilson Faville, who lives in Oakland, used trash to inspire her art even before getting involved with Recology. She was motivated by the illegal dumping she saw around her house in Oakland, and the abandoned piles of clothes, wood, and broken electronics soon became her paintings. Now, while in residence, Amy is using materi­als from the dump to create imagery of different parts of the transfer station, such as the mattress collection and carpet collection areas.

After the completion of each artist’s residency, Recology hosts an art exhibition where much of what these artists have created is for sale. The art that the program keeps is displayed at onsite exhibitions in the art studio and the Re­cology offices, as well as offsite locations in the Bay Area. The San Francisco International Airport is planning an ex­hibit in the United Airlines terminal.

Paper Radio No. 2 : The Trash Issue

Glass plate made from the Muni broken glass.

Another unique element of the Artist in Residence program is the sculpture garden tucked away behind the transfer sta­tion. This three-acre nature area includes sculptures and artwork from past artists and offers a quiet respite from the clamor of the transfer station. Many of the plants in the sculpture garden were also rescued from the dump and re­planted here.

This one of a kind program in San Francisco has been run­ning for 22 years. It offers artists the opportunity to be in­spired in a different way, and it offers the public a chance to understand the potential of re-used materials. Almost 100 artists have participated in the program. Schools, art groups, and the general public alike enjoy tours of this amazing facil­ity, totaling over 150 tour groups per year.

For more information about the program or to go on a tour, visit More images of the art are available at

This post is an article from Paper Radio Issue #2: Trash. Paper Radio is CoLab’s print publication.

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