Art · Environmental Issues · Local Issues · Sustainability

Trash to Treasure

Recycling enthusiast Nancy Judd has a unique way of spreading the word about conservation through public art and couture fashion.

“Waste does not exist, only wasted resources,” said Judd.

Judd was one of over 1500 artists featured at this year’s ArtPrize in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. ArtPrize is public art contest where the winning pieces are not chosen by professional art critics but instead through a public voting process.

Throughout the past three weeks, when you walked into the large open room of the annex in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts you might have found Judd sewing away at a red dress (pictured right). On the table surrounding the dress were hundreds of small red circles, cut out from recycled cardboard and painted red with recycled paint.

Anyone who walked by her table was encouraged to write out an “eco pledge” on the front or back of one of the circles. The idea of the “eco pledge” was for a person to make a commitment to change an aspect of their daily routine in order to decrease their environmental impact.

Some of Judd’s favorite pledges were “showering together”, “shop locally”, and “use less water bottles”.

When people came by Judd was happy when she heard them talking about their conservation efforts, especially when it was a parent talking to a child.

“When people make a commitment with a pledge, even if they don’t do it right away, every time they do that thing a little ping will go off in their head,” said Judd. “Maybe that’s what it’s all about.”

In order to reach out to millions of people about sustainability, her collection has appeared on fashion show runways, airports, malls, museums, and other public venues, as well as at hands-on workshops and presentations.

Judd said she likes to show how trash can be used in ways people wouldn’t expect.

“I like to inspire people to look at trash a different way,” said Judd. “Trash is resources, designated as garbage.”

Like many of her other pieces, the dress she made for ArtPrize was specific and unique to this particular event. The ArtPrize dress was titled Eco-Flamenco, and was made from parachute and canvas scraps, recycled cardboard, and recycled paint from Battle Creek, Mich.

Judd doesn’t refer to herself as a fashion designer or as an artist per say, her idea of creating unique clothing items out of recycled material mostly derived from her 20 year career in recycling and solid waste management.

When Judd was in college she saw how the trash near the vending machine would fill up with pop cans. Judd asked to gather up the cans for recycling, and that is how her recycling career began.

Since then Judd feels we have come a long way as a country.

“At this point most people have integrated recycling into their life,” said Judd. “It’s time for this country to dig deeper and starting thinking about how to live lighter on earth,” said Judd.


To learn more about Nancy Judd and her work as a public artist and environmental advocate, visit her website: