Public art with a purpose: Peaks Island artists design bins for recycling

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PEAKS ISLAND — Island residents and visitors this summer have bright, new ways to recycle soda cans and water bottles.

Six recycling barrels designed by island artists have been set out along the busiest sections of Island Avenue and Welch Street. The recycling project was the brainchild of resident Mary Anne Mitchell and was funded with a $5,000 grant from the Peaks Island Fund. The money paid for the barrels, art supplies and a small fee for the artists. 

“This gives summer people a chance to recycle,” Mitchell said, noting that several of the city-provided garbage cans on the island often fill with mostly recyclable materials in the summer.

“We’ve tried to identify the areas with the most garbage, and placed the (barrels) next to the garbage cans there,” she explained. The recyclables deposited will be collected throughout the summer by various island nonprofits, who in turn get to keep the deposit money. The barrels will be placed in storage from October to April.

The artists who participated in the project are Alfred Wood, Jessica George, Nancy Nash, Paul Brahms, Rob Lieber and Tim Nihoff. Nash wrapped her barrel in salvaged pieces of rope from the shore around Peaks Island. It makes the barrel barely recognizable but curious, sitting outside the Peaks Cafe on Welch Street.

Near the message kiosk at the top of Welch Street, Alfred Wood wrote “Recycle to Live, Live to Recycle” on his brightly painted creation. The barrel also features a large bird perched on the Earth.

Jessica Wood went for a simple, black and white “Peaks Island” on the barrel she and Cole Caswell designed. The barrel also has a signpost attached to it, with labeled arrows pointing to Battery Steel and Centennial Beach, along with arrows to the recycle and garbage bins below.

Paul Brahms painted silhouettes of people recycling, along with key words, on his barrel, which sits outside the GEM Gallery, but may eventually be moved down near the ferry launch.

At the post office, Rob Lieber’s green can has an intricate cut-out pattern revealing the silver layer behind it.

Tim Nihoff designed a whimsical garden landscape out of recycled bottle labels, which he had printed on recycled, weather-resistant vinyl. He then wrapped the vinyl around his recycle barrel. Nihoff’s contribution is outside the island library. 

Mitchell said the barrels have proved popular in the week they have been out. She hopes to expand the program to other places on the island in need of recycling receptacles, such as the back shore. 

Mitchell also has her eye on another environmental sustainability project. She is in the process of securing funding for a “BigBelly” solar garbage compactor for the island. The compactors run on solar energy and have the ability to hold five times as much garbage as a regular barrel, but are the same size. The city of Philadelphia this year installed 500 of the containers.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or

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p-peaksrecycle-070109.jpgNancy Nash’s recycling barrel, wrapped in pieces of rope salvaged from the shore around Peaks Island, outside the Peaks Cafe on Welch Street. (Bucklin photo)