Whatever your thoughts on graffiti — is it art, or is it vandalism? — there’s no denying the environmental impact of thousands of discarded spray cans, many still filled with toxic chemicals, that litter many of the sites that get tagged.

A CANLOVE exhibit in 2012

CANLOVE, a collective of graffiti artists, is on a mission to collect and upcycle as many spray cans as possible into art. With an understanding of the negative impact the subculture has on the environment, they speak about the detritus of their medium with reverence on their website:

At CANLOVE, we have a special relationship with the spray can. We love them. And because we love them we feel compelled to raise them up and treat them with the respect they deserve. Many think that when the can stops spraying its job is over – that it can be kicked to the curb and left behind. Surprisingly, even after these metallic spray soldiers have emptied, they still have so much to offer. We make it our jobs to unlock their latent potential. Just as the American Indians respected the buffalo, the artists at CANLOVE adore spray cans and ensure that nothing goes to waste. We like to think we’re setting the soul of each spray can free, allowing it to rest in peace (or pieces), and memorializing it as a true work of art.

Apparently, the souls of spray cans consist of some beautiful and unique flowers and the 20-foot tree pictured above nicknamed Graffitree.

A CANLOVE exhibit in 2012

Graffitree was part of the group's “No Can Left Behind” exhibition and is designed in sections so it can be moved and “grown” wherever the group needs it . To date, CANLOVE has recycled 12,780 spray cans, and the resulting flowers, bouquets and plants can be purchased from the website.

Read about other innovators and ideas at The Leaderboard. If you have a story suggestion for this year-long project, please contact us.

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This story was originally written for Treehugger. Copyright 2012.