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JuLY 2007

San Francisco garbage art uses discarded Styrofoam

The Barroco Series #2, Styrofoam, construction sealant, talc, vermiculite, paper foil, paint by Ellen Babcock.

Sculptor Ellen Babcock shapes large pieces of Styrofoam® then applies layers of discarded construction sealants to create sculptures that resemble chunks of marble and agate.

She hopes the sculptures encourage people to consider reusing materials when planning decorative or landscaping projects. Babcock says Styrofoam and sealants should be kept out landfills.

Artists living in the Bay area chosen for residencies are given 24-hour access to a large working studio at the dump, woodworking tools and equipment, and permission to scavenge through 80 tons of material a day.

San Francisco waste haulers initiated the Artist In Residence Program in 1990 to encourage residents and businesses to think about their own garbage and take steps to reduce trash. Sixty-five Bay area artists have completed residencies.

Babcock, who teaches at the California College of the Arts, said being part of the Artist In Residence Program allowed her to explore her interest in connecting construction materials to their original source.

“Many people forget that silicone is made from minerals, so to reconfigure this rubbery man-made material into a sculpture that looks like quartz makes us think about the origins of resources we take for granted,” said Paul Fresina, manager of the Household Hazardous Waste Facility and director of the Artist In Residence Program.

Babcock, with the help of SF Recycling workers, found numerous tubes of unused epoxy, urethane, silicone and acrylic caulking, and other construction sealants that she used to perfect her faux rocks and blocks.

Silicone, urethane, epoxy and other sealants are often dropped at the dump by folks doing small construction jobs, remodeling and home repairs. But construction sealants and adhesives are hazardous waste. They do not belong in the landfill or garbage or recycling carts.

Residents and businesses should go to for information on how to dispose of such items.