Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Zero-Waste Glue and Trash Art Projects

For a few posts now I have mentioned I am making an art project in hopes of diverting some of my yearly waste from landfill as well as to commemorate my first year going zero-waste. I have been struggling with how to do this, as I do not purchase glue bottles or much glue at all anymore and got rid of my hot glue gun and glue sticks last year. I wanted to "naturalize" my art making process and tools, and glue was one of the first things to go. I have been stumped for a while on this topic until I remembered a wheat-paste (flour glue) recipe I made once online. It worked really well for paper and papier-mache, that much I knew - but would it work for the variety of trash I had?

What the canvas looked like in the beginning stages of the projects
I made the glue and tried it out on my chosen canvas. I applied a thin layer of the homemade glue onto the surface of the canvas and squished the object into it. I then painted a layer of glue over the object and moved on to another area of the canvas until it was filled. I filled the canvas with as much as I could and then decided to let it dry to see what happened before I went further.

Ya'll - this glue WORKS. I knew it would work on paper and other porous material, but it worked on plastic too! I am amazed. Obviously, if I sat and tried to pry off some things on the canvas they would probably come off, but I can shake, move, rotate, and otherwise handle the canvas as normal with nothing dropping off. I used things like foil packs, plastic spoons/straws, stickers candy wrappers, wine bottle labels, and Command Strip wrappers, which all stuck to the canvas beautifully.

What the glue looks like when it is just about done

1 cup flour

4 cups water
2 tbsp sugar (preservative + strengthener, add at the end to avoid caramelization)
2 tbsp salt (preservative, add anytime as long as it dissolves)
2 tbsp alum (preservative, add anytime)

Combine all ingredients in stock pot. Whisk mixture constantly to avoid clumps (CRUCIAL). Add other ingredients as desired. Heat to near boiling (took a few minutes, but you can tell because mixture is hot, thickening, and bubbles are juuuust about to pop through the surface). Turn off heat at this point and continue mixing until mixture thickens. It will continue to thicken as it cools but can be used immediately. 

I store mine in a large mason jar (probably larger than I really needed) and pour out what I might use at a given time into a small bowl or cup and use my everyday, multipurpose paintbrush with it. It washes out of the brush and container very well, which is another great feature of this glue; in addition to being all natural and CHEAP, it is completely reversible and can be dissolved easily with water. You could use it to reversibly wallpaper just about anything.

You can also re-coat areas with the glue, which will really just reinforce them and make them stronger. The only downside to this glue is that it has a finite shelf life and will go bad after a period of time. I recommend adding in salt, sugar, and alum to help prolong the shelf life of the glue and try to make only what you can use at a time (or, find a way to use it all up before it goes bad). I would also suggest not making more than you really think you need; make what you think you can use and worst case scenario make more! ;) Otherwise, it's a great, all-natural, zero-waste option for folks (like me) who need a strong, sturdy, but forgiving glue.

Project currently, before gesso and paint
Anyway, onto the project. Like I said before, I was using a large variety of trash. Most of it ended up being flat or somewhat easily flattened, as I did not want my canvas to be too three-dimensional. I plan on painting over top of this textured canvas I am creating, so while some texture and added dimensions are nice I wanted a surface I could still easily paint on. First I need to gesso it! I'll have more pictures of that process coming soon, just wanted to share what I was working on and what has (surprisingly) worked well for me transitioning to a zero-waste art practice.


  1. Awesome! I wouldn't have thought about zero waste glue...in fact as I was reading about you getting rid of all your glue, I was wondering how you would get along with out it! I may have to try this in the future, but in the mean time I've still got hot glue and probably even some glue sticks around to use up!

    1. I thought I would have a hard time without conventional glue but this glue really surprised me! Definitely give it a try ;)