A community drive to collect 20,000 plastic bottles is underway until October 20, with plans to use them to erect a 30-foot sculpture in Fort Worth.
The plastic water bottle sculpture of a reclining man will be built in phases by students from Fort Worth and Crowley ISDs until its grand reveal at W. E. Scott Theatre on March 1. It will be moved the following day to the lawn of Arts Fort Worth, where it will be exhibited until the end of the month.
The nonprofit Tarrant County Education Foundation (TCEF) commissioned New Jersey-based artist Willie Cole to help with the massive upcycling project, dubbed the Giant Water Bottle Sculpture (GWBS).
Cole is a pioneer of what he has dubbed “artcycling,” which transforms trash into art while drawing attention to the environmental impact of single-use plastics. Four of his chandeliers constructed using empty plastic bottles can be seen in New York City on Park Avenue between 69th and 70th Streets until the end of this year.
Despite recycling programs being found nationwide, approximately 86% of disposable water bottles — 38 billion — are thrown away each year.
In fact, it is expensive to recycle plastic, meaning that even those that are recycled are likely “downcycled” instead. This entails using plastic refuse to build a new but lower-quality product, which usually cannot be recycled afterward and ends up in a landfill.
Yet creatively building environmental awareness is just one of the goals TCEF co-founders Arlene Barnett and Shirley Pace have for this sculpture project.
“We want to help [students] to understand that they have a personal responsibility in their own carbon footprint and how they can manage that. That’s number one. And, two, we want to expose them to environmental careers,” Barnett told NBC 5 DFW.
On a page of the foundation’s website dedicated to the GWBS, TCEF lists its goals in the project as “[t]o inspire higher learning, raise awareness of scholarship opportunities, and encourage education in STEM and Arts careers.”
TCEF offers other opportunities for students to learn about careers, college, and scholarships funded through the Tarrant County Education Endowment, established in 2019.