While they may not announce themselves by blasting “Für Elise” or involve industrious draft animals, some of the vehicles used to pick up curbside recycling in Houston are certainly more aesthetically pleasing than your average waste collection truck.

Launched late last month by the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) in partnership with the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA), the Art Recycling Trucks initiative has seen a half-dozen otherwise run-of-the-mill recycling trucks receive lovely, rubberneck-inducing makeovers. Referring to the initiative as a “museum on wheels,” HAA president Jonathon Glus explains in a press statement that the gussied-up mini-fleet of refuse trucks “will travel greater Houston for an anticipated seven years, bringing art — and City recycling services — to Houston residents.”

In addition to injecting constantly roaming public art into the cityscape, the initiative was launched in part to celebrate Houston’s progressive — and as Co.Exist points out, contentious — new automated single-stream recycling program that aims to reverse the city’s traditionally meager recycling rates by diverting as much as 75 percent of waste from landfills.

SWMD honcho Harry Hayes elaborates:

When the expansion is complete at the end of this year, the City will be providing single stream recycling to the entire 640-square mile service area, which incorporates approximately 380,000 homes.

The art wraps on the recycling trucks help draw public attention to the fact that these trucks are utilized in ‘repurposing’ materials that would otherwise be considered trash. Over the past several years, the City of Houston has made substantial progress in its recycling efforts. Having these trucks in the public arena helps to create awareness and participation in the program.

As for the “art wraps” themselves, they’re essentially printed vinyl panels affixed to the trucks. Each sports an original, waste-centric work commissioned by one of six Houston artists who were selected to participate by a panel of other local artists during an open call process.

There’s the fig ivy-clad “Green Dream” from Pablo Gimenez-Zapiola, which presents itself as a verdant spin on traditional green-hued recycling trucks. “This truck is a symbol of the beauty and significant value of nature. But, of course, it is so much more than that. It is in fact a subtle, moving message about my dream for an environmentally conscious community, yearning to fill its niche in the global struggle to maintain a more healthy planet,” remarks the artist.

The heady, hard-to-miss “Patterns of Consumption” truck by CORE Design Studio is dressed up in X-ray blueprints of common recyclables presented in a “harmonious mandala pattern” that creates “a visual metaphor of their environmental effects and memory burned into our landscape.”

“Mad Tax Beyond the Thunderdome” is artist Aaron Muñoz’s post-apocalyptic vision of the recycling of the Houston Astrodome while “Recycled City” from Kia Neill “employs the trompe-l'œil effect, depicting digitally manipulated photographs of steel I-beams mangled by Hurricane Ike.”

My favorites of the bunch are “Forest from the Trees” from Troy Stanley and Ariane Roesch’s “I Have a Positive Impact.” The former resembles a giant wooden toy truck — Stanley, a sculptor, took photographs of scrap wood laying around his design studio — while the latter is “a patchwork of recycled materials” leftover from Roesch’s soft sculpture projects.

She explains: “I utilize various kinds of fabric to create my artwork. Felt, vinyl tablecloth, linen, cotton, etc. are all materials that are cut and sewn into various projects. For some reason, I like to keep the remaining pieces from the various projects. Since the Houston Arts Alliance project called for a specific piece for a recycle truck, I decided to recycle the scraps into a quilt – where the shape of the scrap determined placement. Each scrap holds the memory of a previous project, so the recycle truck piece is a wonderful culmination and dedication to all of my previous works.”

Houston residents, have you spotted any of these waste-collecting beauties rolling around town?

Via [Co.Exist]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Houston has the artsiest recycling trucks that you ever did see
No need to be alarmed if you spot what appears to be a massive wooden toy truck rolling down the street — it's just here to collect your recyclables.