Redemptive Plastics

Redemptive Plastics is a collaboration between alt_ Chicago and Happy Returns supported in part by a grant from E(art)h Chicago, a project of the Illinois. 

alt_ Chicago and Happy Returns  are both located in the Austin community of Chicago, IL. alt_ Chicago is an artist led, faith based and community driven non-profit dedicated to revitalizing communities through art and culture. 

Austin is the largest community in Chicago, yet the narrative about the community is often one of violence, crime, and disinvestment. One obvious signifier of disinvestment is trash, most commonly plastic.

Opportunities to dispose of trash in a sustainable manner are virtually non-existent. As we all know, waste that is not biodegradable fills oceans and landfills contributing to the climate crisis and negatively impacts public health. A recent study found just 9% of plastic has been recycled, while methods for disposing of waste have become more careless.

Shredded PP#5 Plastics (Image: Nathan Keay)

Redemptive Plastics examines these realities while providing a hope for the future. We believe that through care and collective action, we can redeem these objects. Giving them a new life and creating a new pathway of change. 

Redemptive Plastics will take place in three important stages.

Stage 1

First, the collection and cleaning of plastics found in Austin, enlisting a cohort of neighbors, primarily teens, who will collect plastics in the community and bring them to the studio for cleaning and shredding in a granulator housed in the Happy Returns studio space. Redemptive Plastics hosts workshops dedicated to educating and training the cohort, thereby empowering residents to take ownership of the project.

Flyer for Redemptive Plastics launch event Ocotber 15th, 2022

Stage 2

In the second stage, artists will craft plastic beams from the shredded plastics by melting the clean, sorted plastic and extruding it into plastic beams of varying lengths and dimensions. These beams will form the backbone of the project and will act as a library of material possibilities from which we hope that many different outcomes will emerge. 

Stage 3 

In the third stage, use them in their design for communal assets, starting with public benches. The goal is to repurpose local plastic into functional public seating. Making public space more public.

Communal assets, such as benches made from discarded plastic in the neighborhood, will be created and placed in the Austin community. Workshops will be held to recruit and train community residents who will be hired to collect, sort, wash and break down the plastic to reform into a functional art object.

Redemptive Plastics endeavors to invest in our communities by using what has been discarded as a tool for teaching. Through this process we will reclaim what has been discarded and create community assets. Plastics as public seating is just the beginning. With this redemptive practice we hope to provide a system for generations to come.

Who are alt_ Chicago?

alt_ Chicago is an artist led, faith based and community driven non-profit dedicated to revitalizing communities through art and culture. The name alt_ posits that there are alternative ways of creating an equitable and sustainable future for the benefit of all communities. Recognizing inaction ultimately undermines the potential for change. There is empowerment in taking ownership of and reclaiming our space. The autonomy that comes with self-controlled spaces breeds infinite new possibilities not just for how we operate, but also for how we see ourselves. We understand that how we treat physical spaces — buildings, neighborhoods, businesses — reflects how we treat people. alt_ seeks to expand beyond artistic expression with ambiguity through efforts rooted in thorough research to make sure projects produce tangible, measurable impact.

alt_ Chicago website:

What is E(art)H Chicago?

Pronounced “Earth Art Chicago,” the program is a citywide community-based art initiative to raise awareness, create dialogue, and inspire action on climate change, natural resource use, and environmental justice. E(art)H Chicago will highlight local artists and communities directly impacted by industrially polluted corridors, centering voices typically left out of the climate conversation.

Citywide display of nearly $550,000 in funded artworks across 11 Chicago neighborhoods, including downtown, will start in June 2023 and will create an interconnected experience of art and the environment.

Each public artwork (physical art installations and performances) will educate, inspire, and encourage people to take action and explore all of the art pieces throughout the city.

E(art) Chicago website: