The priority neighborhoods of Flemingdon and Thorncliffe parks, situated near the Don Valley, unfortunately face serious littering issues that local youth felt were impacting low levels of pride in the community. As a result, STEPS’ youth-led arts collective – the Toronto Emerging ARTivists (or TEA for short) has launched an Eco ARTivism initiative, beginning with the unveiling a community mural and a pop bottle planter installation, during National Youth Arts Week 2014.

Under the mentorship of STEPS’ staff and the leadership of youth artist Ananna Rafa, young people from the neighbourhood have been collecting an upcycling plastic pop bottles into beautiful installations made up of a series of pop-bottle planters.

Chained together and hoisted on a large wall, these installations have begun to be displayed on high impact walls within the community, beginning with the entrance-way to the East York Town Centre, which serves as the neighbourhood’s central gathering space, challenge community members to re-imagine the environmental and aesthetic impact of littering.

Made out of repurposed trash, these planters and the living organisms within them, are designed to grow year-round, improve indoor ventilation, add a touch of greenery and beauty to often sterile public spaces, and convey to the wider community that “trash” can be repurposed into something beautiful and functional.

The installations are accompanied by explanations about the intention behind the work, and information on local environmental issues, including the impact of recycling and upcycling.

This project has not only drawn attention to the littering problems that face some of Toronto’s most underserved communities, but has increased environmental awareness and educated Torontonians of all ages about the environmental impact of their actions, as well as how they can take ownership and action to improve their community. It has also provided leadership and skill development opportunities, through a peer-mentorship model, as well as engaged many young people in the growing environmental arts activism movement.

It is the culmination of a partnership between STEPS and TEA, supported by generous contributions from Platform A, in partnership with ArtStarts, as well as the Laidlaw Foundation, the Ontario Arts Council and the East York Town Centre who was kind enough to host the first installation and the initiative’s launch event in spring 2014.