A few weeks ago, my five-year-old came home from school repeating the mantra, “Every day is Earth Day.” For several days, anytime we mentioned the environment, trash, cleaning, or nature, he would say, “Every day is Earth Day.” He told me that they read it in a book at school but he didn’t really understand what it meant. Still, he “liked the way it sounded.” Of course, I have heard this saying before, but it hits a little harder when you hear it from your child.

We have all heard the statistics about humanity’s effect on the environment. We have all been confronted with the reality and magnitude of waste. As a global culture we understand the importance of refusing, reducing, reusing, and recycling. Nations, corporations, and individuals are making big changes in the way they consume in order to help care for the earth. But honestly, many of us don’t think about personally caring for the environment very often. It’s too easy for it to become out of sight out of mind. Or we can fall into the trap of thinking that the issue is “too big.” We wonder what one person can do or not do that will actually cause any real change.

My day job is being an artist. I am so blessed to be able to paint and create every day. But part of my unique studio practice is that I do not spend any money on art supplies. For the past ten years of doing gallery shows, murals, commission pieces, and art works, I have not spent any money on art supplies. All of the materials I use are either obtained for free at online marketplaces, given to me by others, or found in the dumpster.

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me a simple and reasonable question: “Do you have a hard time finding supplies?” And the simple answer is no! Although I am not always able to find exactly what I am looking for, I am always able to find enough supplies to complete my work. I have found that there is no shortage of waste out there. In fact, people discard a lot of really useful and wonderful things that can be repurposed into art.

I realize that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea to dig through dumpsters and drive through alleys for art supplies. But my hope is that my art practice will encourage people to think about the waste they produce and then find ways to reduce and reuse things that would otherwise get pitched. I often talk to other artists and encourage them to use at least one repurposed or recycled item in each of their pieces.

I have also found that utilizing these materials keeps me thinking about the amount and type of waste I produce. It has caused me to be more intentional about what I consume and how I discard unneeded things.

I think it would be great to see neighborhoods come together and create functional and decorative art pieces made from discarded items. This could help us stay alert to the possibilities of creatively using the enormous waste around us. It would also encourage mindful consumption of these neglected resources, as we remember what our kids have told us: “Every day is Earth Day.”

Here are a few ideas for functional and decorative art pieces neighborhoods can create:

  • Benches from scrap wood
  • Mosaics from broken glass and ceramics
  • Murals from unused paint (every garage and basement has some)
  • Flower beds from old furniture
  • Art installations
  • Community compost bins
  • Clothing swaps

As we approach Earth Day, can you think of any creative ways to celebrate in your neighborhood?

Note: You can see more art from PennyPinch on Instagram