One Man's Junk

The old adage says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Abilene, Texas, recently proved that the saying applies to trash as well as matters of the heart. In November, the city's Solid Waste Services Division teamed up with the local educational organization Keep Abilene Beautiful to organize Junk-A-Do, a community art contest with just one stipulation: all entries must be made of reused materials.

“The reason that we really do it is, a lot of people think that recycling is [taking] a post-consumer product and [having] it recycled back into the same product,” says recycling coordinator Bill Brock. “We've got a lot of other items that have a useful purpose if you reuse it in a different venue, and that's what Junk-A-Do does.”

To coincide with this year's Texas Recycles Day, an event to inform the community about the importance of recycling, Junk-A-Do returned after a three-year hiatus with 35 participants, a much stronger showing than the 15 participants that entered the previous contest. This year's contestants competed in three categories — functional, crafts and scrap art — with separate divisions for students from kindergarten through high school and adults.

Participants in the Junk-A-Do contest were allowed to use any type of reusable material including material from around the house or the city's recycling center. Some materials were found in the most unlikely places. One contestant discovered a piece of melted plastic in the trunk of his car, tacked it onto a board and submitted it. Some contestants even used paint taken from the center's household hazardous recycling area.

The 55 entries were as diverse as the materials used. Memorable entries included a vessel schooner ship made of used soda cans; a robot made of radio tubes and water jugs, among other items; and a mini wind farm made with a soda bottle submitted by an elementary school student.

Awards went to a three-foot tall penguin made of Styrofoam from a highway paving project, a 300-pound podium composed of truck and tractor gears, and a chain made of 700 bottle caps.

After the contest, most participants reclaimed their art, but a few of the pieces remain on display at Abilene's recycling center, which Brock says is another way to promote the efforts and initiatives of Keep Abilene Beautiful. “We try to keep that message out in front of [the community],” he says. “[It's] not just saying that you've got to take [something] and recycle it back into its original [form]. There's always some other uses.”