Metro Vancouver artist turns trash into treasure by using plastic to create stunning art

Click to play video: 'This is BC: Creative artist helping to keep plastics out of landfills' This is BC: Creative artist helping to keep plastics out of landfills
Vancouver is the latest Canadian city to ban single-use plastic bags and while a B.C. man has been doing his part to keep the bags out of landfills for decades, he's also showcasing his artistic talent. Jay Durant has more in This is BC – Jan 2, 2022

For the past year, Roger Brenninkmeyer has been turning people’s trash into someone else’s treasure.

The Metro Vancouver artist is the founder and creative director of the Plastic Essence Collaborative (PECO), a Burnaby-based art company that turns plastic bags and overwrap into stunning pieces of three-dimensional artwork.

“We can actually create new product out of something that is going straight to the garbage can,” he said in an interview.

“The idea behind PECO is that we are taking plastic, taking a piece of what is trash to most of us, and breathing new life into it.”

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It’s an environmentally-conscious career many years in the making, said Brenninkmeyer, who started his high school’s first recycling club in the late 1980s.

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Brenninkmeyer spent two decades working in the branding industry, printing reports and brochures for corporate communications — a career that got him thinking about damage to forests and recycled materials.

“I spent my time really harming the Earth and I kind of had a Jerry Maguire moment,” he explained. “I said, I’m actually part of the problem here, not part of the solution.”

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He launched PECO as a way to use his skills for a sustainable, purpose-driven mission to reduce waste and build beautiful art that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The company collects plastics, melts them down and presses it so that it can be used to create a finished piece.

“Building a little treasure out of a lot of trash I think is a great metaphor for this, because if anything I would love this small business to be a model for anyone in North America, or the world for that matter.”

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To date, the entrepreneur estimates he’s saved about 150,000 plastic bags from the landfill.

His biggest creation is an art installation at the Wisteria Place seniors’ home in Richmond, B.C., which required about 18,000 bags — some of which were contributed by the residents.

“They get to go down to breakfast every morning and look up and see a beautiful wisteria tree, knowing that their trash is actually part of that beautiful mosaic,” he said.

Now, in partnership with Ocean Legacy, he said PECO is working on a new technique to turn bigger ocean plastics, like fishing nets and crab baskets, into art. He hopes to inspire others, he added, to consider using recycled materials.

“Maybe they don’t create art, but maybe they create plates or stools. Just as long as we’re taking something that is deemed landfill and turning it into something that is beautiful, that is useful,” he said.

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