Consider the lowly soda can. After the pop, the fizz, the guzzle, it’s dumped into a recycling bin and chucked curbside with the rest of the trash.
But just as it has reached a sort of existential low point — empty, forgotten, discarded — voila! The can transforms into a thing of beauty.
Photojournalist Huguette Roe captures that metamorphosis in her series “Recycle,” which explores the afterlife of bottles, cans and other packaging destined to be reborn for reuse. Over the course of two years, the Belgian-born, U.S.-based Roe visited more than 100 recycling centers in the U.S. and France, photographing bales of recyclables, sorted and smashed together for the journey to the processing plant.
“I was attracted to the color, graphic composition, subject,” Roe tells The Salt of her inspiration for the project.
Egg cartons rise and fold like a ridged, otherworldly landscape.
Rusted tin cans glint like gold.
Green plastic bottles become an undulating ocean.
“To me,” she says, “they look like abstract paintings.”
But to a lot of recyclers, those bales looked like private property — and many companies turned down her requests to shoot on their premises, Roe says. “It’s trash, but they don’t want me to take any photos of their equipment — like I am a spy or something!”
Despite those setbacks, there was plenty for her camera to snap — and plenty for us viewers to reflect on. In 2010, American households threw away nearly 76 million tons of steel, glass, plastic, aluminum containers and other packaging, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The bright side: Nearly half of those materials got recycled.
“We live in an environment of waste,” Roe says. “Our eyes are accustomed to it and it belongs to our lifestyle, so we don’t question it.”
But by altering our perspective on the familiar, her images might just challenge us to re-evaluate our disposables.