The Lexington sculpture demands the attention of onlookers – and their plastic waste
A ball of chicken wire adorned with a flame sits on the lawn of the Munroe Center for the Arts in Lexington. Inside, a pile of black plastic glistens: leftover take-out food, rings from six-packs, crumpled pots that have brought home seedlings.
Since Earth Day, residents of Lexington have been encouraged to bring their black plastic trash here, instead of throwing it in the recycling bin.
“I think we thought we were going to leave it for a few weeks,” said Cristina Burwell, executive director of the Munroe Center. “But because we saw him grow and grow, we left him there a bit longer.”
Burwell said she wasn’t sure how much trash had been collected, but after two months the mass of pipes and wire mesh is almost full. The coin will continue to accept trash until it falls on July 28.
Unlike lighter shades, black plastic cannot be sorted by recycling plants, which means it usually ends up in a landfill or incinerator, even if it has been put in the blue bin.
That means black plastic dumped in a Lexington recycling bin is heading to a materials recovery facility in Billerica before being sent to a landfill in Rochester, NH — about 80 miles from where it originated.
Signs next to the sculpture invite viewers to ‘rethink black plastics’ and give examples of other non-recyclable products that tend to end up in the wrong bin: plastic straws, chip bags, soiled paper items , etc.
The room was originally built last year as part of a partnership between the Munroe Center and the Lexington Zero Waste Collaborative, or LexZeroWaste, a community nonprofit that promotes sustainability.
Hien Nguyen, co-founder and co-president of LexZeroWaste, said the article aims to educate viewers about the types of materials that cannot be effectively recycled and ultimately encourage consumers to develop more sustainable buying habits.
“I think most people in town didn’t know our waste was being incinerated,” Nguyen said. “The impact is really to raise awareness and spark all these different conversations.”
This year, they painted the pipes “recycling blue” and added flames — an eye-catching visual that more directly communicates the plight of plastic, Burwell said.
“I know as an artist that we have a unique opportunity to create exposure,” Burwell said. “These things are close to my heart.”
The overhaul follows the city’s April adoption of a zero waste resolution, pushed by LexZeroWaste, which requires it to devise short- and long-term plans to reduce solid waste, such as implementing a city-wide composting program.
Nguyen said the sculpture’s interactivity helps solidify its message to residents.
“Our mission is basically to create a community,” she said. “It’s always more impactful when someone can participate in, experience and contribute to an activity. And I think the dialogue that happens when people work together is really an integral part of our work.
That dialogue extends beyond Lexington, thanks to the play’s central location on Massachusetts Avenue, Nguyen said. She received calls from activists from nearby Arlington passing by on their drive, and she often sees cars slowing down as they approach.
Although there is no set end date for the project, Nguyen said she hopes to share it with surrounding communities before the end of the summer.
As for the black plastic inside, Nguyen and Burwell hope to reuse what they can.
Burwell said the flower pots will go to Lexington Field & Garden Club for use in their spring sale, and small containers will eventually be used in arts and crafts programs at the Munroe Center.
Anything that’s left will go to the incinerator, “that’s what would happen if you threw them in the trash,” Nguyen said. “Unfortunately, it’s a problematic material.”