The beauty in trash: Artists transform trucks into mobile masterpieces

Utilitarian paint jobs on trash and recycling collection trucks have plagued the industry for decades. Sure some may have a company logo or slogan painted on the side, but the majority of trash receptacles have a bleak presence in the communities that they service.

Fortunately, many cities and towns are combating this issue by turning their trucks into hulking works of mobile art with unique and colorful designs. From a seaport in South America to a small town in North Carolina, here are some of the best:

Valparaiso, Chile

Unlike Chile's capital of Santiago, the city of Valparaiso has a problem with packs of stray dogs and cats that rip into trash. Therefore, UnKolorDistinto (A Different Color) comprised of artists Sammy Espinosa and Cynthia Aguilera — has taken matters into its own hands to educate residents about proper waste disposal. Many of its artwork on trash trucks show dogs and cats eyeing food and trash in order to give "an interpretation of what happens in town, with a touch of surrealism," according to Aguilera.

The graffiti artist duo has also decorated hundreds of utility boxes and buildings across the city to add a bit of flair to the otherwise mundane concrete jungle. 


Washington, D.C.

Designed to Recycle, a public art project collaboration between the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Department of Public Works, features the work of local artists on 10 recycling trucks to highlight the importance of recycling.

"These canvases in motion will enliven the streets of Washington, DC and bring contemporary art to the lives of residents and passersby while at the same time creatively bringing attention to waste reduction," according to a Designed to Recycle press release. 

Colors in the Night by Kellie Cox
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
French Trip by Erin Curtis
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities


The 'Cycle of Life by Carolyn Sewell
The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Houston, TX

The City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department in partnership with the Houston Arts Alliance launched the Art Recycling Trucks initiative in 2014. The six recycling trucks are expected to sport their new look for seven years.

Houston Arts Alliance President Jonathon Glus referred to the initiative as a "museum on wheels" in a press statement, explaining that the fleet will travel the greater Houston area while "bringing art and City recycling services to Houston residents."

Courtesy of the Houston Arts Alliance

Mount Holly, NC

Gwen Campau, a fifth-grader at Ida Rankin Elementary, won a contest to have her artwork wrapped on the town’s new $265,000 recycling truck. She beat out 1,500 other entries of students from local schools because her drawing had the elements that best represented recycling, according to Miles Braswell, streets and solid waste director.

"It's so cute," Leah Campau, Gwen's mother, told The Gaston Gazette. "Dump trucks or recycling trucks aren't always real nice looking, but this one is adorable."

The Gaston Gazette
The Gaston Gazette

Why stop at trucks? In some places, public trash cans are also works of art

In Oakland and Richmond, CA, mosaic artist Daud Abdullah uses pieces of trashed pottery, tile, mirror, and glass to make public art on garbage cans. He did the first one on his own in 2006 and a $3,000 grant from the city has helped fund more. There are now 26 in the city.

Also in California, San Diego's City Heights Business Association hired local artists to paint more than 70 trash cans and utility boxes through the VISUAL Public Art Project. Another 30 are scheduled to be painted.

"My art shop and art gallery showcases urban contemporary artists. It was apparent that many of the artists were already creating illegal works of public art, so I felt that it was neccessary to utilize the outdoors as another gallery venue and start adding art work to our neglected urban spaces," Jason Gould, founder of the VISUAL Publc Art Project, told Waste Dive. 

BOBV/VISUAL Public Art Project
Sendy Santamaria/VISUAL Public Art Project
Jorge Donate/VISUAL Public Arts Project


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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Fleet Management
Top image credit: Photo courtesy of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities