Message in a Bottle: Our 3D Residents Turn Recycling into an Art

We’ve never seen anyone make recycling as fun as Bonnie Combs and Jen Long. They're helping us get ready for a major new public art installation next year.

Avenue Concept 3D Resident Local Artists Bonnie Combs and Jen LongTo say Bonnie Combs and Jen Long are two creative people who care about the environment would be a bit of understatement. Bonnie is the Marketing Director for Blackstone Heritage Corridor, and in her spare time she turns plastic seed and feed bags into totes, aprons and dog jackets. Jen, a toy and graphic designer by trade, was part of the team behind The Whale Guitar, a unique musical instrument project to raise awareness of the threats to our oceans. Together they created an event to celebrate World Ocean Day that included live music and a screening of the documentary A Plastic Ocean at the Cable Car Cinema. That’s just the kind of folks they are.

They are also the kind of folks who fit perfectly as our 2018 3D Resident Local Artists. Their combination of environmental consciousness and aptitude at finding creative solutions to problems is exactly what we needed. The residency program provides individuals with an interest in issues relating to recycling, re-use, upcycling, waste and environmental impact with the time and resources to explore those concepts creatively. This year’s residency is a unique opportunity to do that while preparing for an art installation by Steven Siegel. Siegel is a nationally renowned sculptor and artist who, among other things, creates large-scale works of public art using recycled materials. We’ll be bringing him to Providence next year for an installation at Kennedy Plaza that will require at least 22 cubic yards of such material; enter Bonnie and Jen.

We’ve never seen anyone make recycling so fun. The two women have a creative chemistry together that shouldn’t be surprising given the fact that they met at Ladies Rock Camp. They later reconnected at a screening of A Plastic Ocean hosted by ecoRI News, met up for coffee after and a collaboration was born. Over the past three months Jen and Bonnie launched their response to our challenge of collecting the raw materials for Siegel’s installation. They call it “Come Clean About Recycling.”

“We are collecting clean, capped, colored plastics. We’ve sourced collection bins for the plastics, Jen has designed some impactful graphics for them, and we are distributing them to local businesses, schools, etc.,” Bonnie explains. “Our focus is on clean plastic, so we are targeting bottles from shampoo, laundry, cleaning products, etc. We don’t want anything with a food residue for this project.”

They’re also collecting used bicycle inner tubes for the exterior of Siegel’s piece, many of which have been provided by Dash Bicycle.

“They zeroed in on cleaning product containers for a number of reasons,” says Brian Dowling, our 3D Art Program Manager. “The variety of color in packaging will provide a more dynamic pallet when used in Steven Siegel’s sculpture. Also, people generally think of drinking bottles when recycled containers are discussed; collecting cleaning product containers highlights the prevalence of plastics in our daily lives. Plus, Siegel desires clean containers for use in his piece, so avoiding food containers is great.”

The project is a win-win-win-win. “Where Bonnie Combs and Jen Long are able to explore their interests in recycling and plastic use awareness and networking opportunities, Siegel will be provided with the raw materials to execute his artwork,” Brian says. “The 3D Residency is also allowing our organization to understand the materials that will be used in the sculpture as well as the very important and practical task of setting up a system to collect a large quantity of material by the Spring of 2019.” 

Jen adds, “By brainstorming ways to collaborate and collect the plastic recyclables Steven needs, Bonnie and I have uncovered ways to educate people about clean recycling and are helping the ocean by keeping the land’s plastic out of it in the first place. Plus, knowing that the material collected will be used to make art, and that I’m invited to make art with it too, just fires up my wonder!” Everybody wins.

Right now, there are collection bins posted in numerous locations in and around Providence, including several Freeway Laundry locations and the Save the Bay headquarters. (See full list.) They’ll also be presenting about their work at Providence Green Drinks, the monthly networking event for people interested in environmental issues, on Thursday, September 20 at our HQ. (More info and registration here.) Attendees are encouraged to bring empty, clean colored plastic bottles/containers (with caps and lids on) for the chance to win two tickets to ecoRI’s Zero Trash Birthday Bash.

If you want to help Bonnie and Jen by hosting a collection box at your business, school or other public place, we encourage you to get involved. For a one-time fee of $100, we will place a collection box at your location and empty it as needed up to three times a week. If you’re excited about this project, but don’t have a location to host a box you can also sponsor one to be placed at a high traffic spot. The fee covers materials for the collection box, signage printing and collection. Either way, send us an email at