Canadian Geographic commissioned five artists to create works out of plastic waste. Second in a five part series.

The results? Eye-catching and compelling commentary on the material’s impact on our planet.

Second in a five part series.

It was a powerful statement. For much of 2019, as visitors left Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto, they were confronted with a silver canoe emerging from a tidal wave of plastic water bottles. What to make of this iconic Canadian symbol of water and wilderness engulfed in the seemingly ubiquitous empty bottles, a work titled Over Our Heads?

Questioning our dependence on plastic and the waste it’s creating is a principal motive behind the 10,000 Changes program from Canadian Geographic, together with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Recycling Council of Ontario. As part of the initiative, Canadian Geographic wanted to inspire reflection on plastic similar to that prompted by the Ripley’s exhibit. So, we commissioned five Canadian artists to create works from plastic waste and share the rationale behind their art to provoke further though on the issue. 

Included among them is the very artist of the Ripley’s piece, Rebecca Jane Houston, along with Pete Clarkson, Katharine Harvey, Kerry Hodgson and Hilde Lambrechts. Some, like Houston, are already known for plastic waste art, while others mixed plastic into their existing mediums. All present pieces that will inspire us to rethink plastic. Here’s the second. 

Something useful

by Rebecca Jane Houston
Original Artwork by Rebecca Jane Houston

These sculptures are made from plastic gathered from Toronto’s Humber Bay shore, just east of the mouth of the Humber River. Woven from straws, water bottle lids, tampon applicators, miscellaneous strapping and bits of toys, they mimic what might happen in nature as creatures gather and weave whatever they find into something useful. 

They are strange, semi-intentional emanations. They twist and nest. Collecting them felt like a dark harvest, like picking berries growing low on the shore with the sound of the waves lapping, ducks launching and landing, trucks humming nearby. The combination of peace and ugliness, whimsical colour and grossness, bright promise and overwhelming despair has permeated the making of these little things. 

When I’m by the water, I’m reminded that, despite the pollution, being in nature is its own reward. I won’t find a pristine beach anywhere, but I can still go to the water and be renewed. It’s a place of tension where I can breathe in the fresh open sky and let my eyes be drawn out to the distant horizon, but also a ground zero for an encounter with the plastic crisis — a reality check. The plastics can never be removed; we can’t take them back. But we have to keep trying to hope, to push for change, to play and to love the life of the lake. 


Rebecca Houston ( is a settler sculptor, art teacher and community artist inspired by feminist physicist Karen Barad and political theorist Jane Bennett. Her work explores and celebrates the inter- and intra-action of human and non-human bodies. Houston’s works have been shown at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto, among other venues.