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The material is the message: Michigan artist creates with plastic trash

Hannah Tizedes’ creative medium is uncommon in the arts. Unfortunately, it’s common in the environment.

The way some artists work in oils or clay, Tizedes works in plastic trash and microplastics – tiny fragments of debris increasingly found polluting the world’s oceans and waters closer to home.

Art at Sea Life Aquarium made from microplastics by Michigan artist Hannah Tizedes.

Art at Sea Life Aquarium made from microplastics by Michigan artist Hannah Tizedes. 


Tizedes grew up in Flat Rock, Michigan, near where the Detroit River empties into Lake Erie. She earned her bachelor’s degree in creative advertising, with a focus on environmental sustainability, from Michigan State University in 2017. For most of her college years, she was environmental communications coordinator for MSU’s Recycling Center.

A job in Detroit after graduation took her to Portugal for a couple of months. A lifelong collector, she started going to the beach and picking up colorful plastic trash, bringing it back to her Airbnb and sorting through it to make artistic arrangements.

When she began sharing those arrangements online, people noticed. In 2020, the reusable silicone bag brand Stasher reached out to Tizedes for a campaign, asking her to spell out “save what matters” in salvaged plastic.

Today, Tizedes lives and works in the Detroit area. Her website is The Trashy Collection. She continues to collect trash from the Great Lakes – the source of most of her 75,000-plus pieces. One of her latest projects is for SEA LIFE Michigan Aquarium in Auburn Hills: an educational mosaic about the Great Lakes made of plastic collected from Great Lakes shorelines. EGLE spoke with Tizedes about her art and its purpose.

Q: When and how did you first become aware of plastic pollution?

A: I've witnessed plastic washing up on the shores of our Great Lakes for as long as I can remember. As a kid, my parents would take us on beach walks, and I’d collect anything colorful I could find – including plastic.

Q: What items you’ve found stand out as strange, surprising, unusual, common, etc.?

A: I find lots of strange items like vintage hair rollers, toothbrushes, shoes, Barbie accessories, car starters, and so on. And of course, lots of common beach-found items like plastic straws, plastic bottles, microplastics – nurdles [small pellets used in producing plastic products], broken bits, etc. You never know what you’ll find!

Q: Why are Michigan and the Great Lakes important to you?

A: Michigan and the Great Lakes are home. It’s as simple as that. Anyone who grew up in Michigan visiting the Great Lakes will understand that. They’re the most special, most beautiful lakes in the world. Protecting them will always be my No. 1 passion.

Q: What do you want people to experience or learn from your art?

A: I hope people will recognize plastic items they use in their daily lives and hopefully feel inspired to make more sustainable choices. With an estimated 22 million pounds of plastic ending up in the Great Lakes every year, it is so important to start our work at home.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I recently founded The Cleanup Club, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to educating communities on Great Lakes plastic pollution through conversations, collaborations, and cleanups – while having fun! That’s what I’m most excited about right now. And, of course, the many art projects I’m working on!

Q: Tell us about your career or life plans.

A: I just want to make the world a better and brighter place through my work. I’m passionate about protecting our Great Lakes and creating a healthier planet – for our people, wildlife, and generations to come. So, I plan to let that lead my career.

About microplastics in Michigan

As Tizedes noted, an estimated 10,000 metric tons of plastics enter the Great Lakes every year. Larger pieces slowly break apart over time, while some fibers and beads are tiny to begin with. Studies find larger amounts close to urban and nearshore areas, particularly near where rivers, stormwater, and wastewater meet the lakes. Zooplankton, fish, mussels, and birds in the Great Lakes can ingest microplastics, mistaking them for food. Microplastics also can attract and carry pollutants already in the water or release chemicals that make plastics colorful, flexible, or flame-resistant. More research is needed to understand the impacts on wildlife and up the food chain. See Page 33 of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s (EGLE) Michigan State of the Great Lakes 2022 Report to learn more.