See a giant garbage sculpture on the High Line this month

While it's a bit menacing, it also strives to encourage change.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Things to Do Editor
A sculpture made up of plastic waste.
Photograph: Courtesy of Kiehl's

Sadly, seeing trash on New York City's streets is nothing new. Candy wrappers, cigarette butts, latex gloves, random clothing, and single-use cups litter sidewalks and roadways. 

In honor of Earth Month, a new sculpture aptly titled "Single Use Reflections" encourages viewers to pay closer attention to the trash we create—and how we can change that both systemically and individually. Over the weekend, beauty brand Kiehl's unveiled a sculptural installation by artist and activist Benjamin Von Wong. The artwork is on view at the High Line through April 17.

RECOMMENDED: The best outdoor art in NYC this spring

A mountain of single-use household items and beauty products, all doused in silver paint, form the foundation for "Single Use Reflections." Laundry detergent jugs, body wash containers, and lotion pump bottles combine to create a visual spectacle with menacing tentacle-like arms. Though the artwork can feel a bit overwhelming, it also helps people understand how they can be a small part of the solution. Mirrors decorated with phrases like "I am a refill warrior" jut out of the sculpture, encouraging visitors to rethink their reliance on single-use products. 

A sculpture made up of plastic waste; illuminated at night.
Photograph: Courtesy of Kiehl's

"Everyone knows that New York has a big trash problem and this sculpture beautifully embodies both the problem and one piece of the solution—using refillables," Von Wong said in a statement. 

Everyone knows that New York has a big trash problem and this sculpture beautifully embodies both the problem and one piece of the solution.

Humans across the globe throw away more than 400 million metric tons of plastic every year, per the UN Environment Programme. To help combat that number, Kiehl's is working toward making all of its products reusable, refillable, or made of recycled materials by 2030. The installation is part of the brand's #DontReBuyJustRefill campaign. They've already made a variety of refillable products, like face creams, shower cleanser, shampoo, and conditioner. 

"The waste and pollution created by our linear economy of take, make, waste is pushing our planet towards a world of scarcity. As New Yorkers, we produce nearly 8 million tons of waste which travels to landfills, incinerators or litters our community," said Maggie Kervick, global head of sustainability at Kiehl’s.

A closeup of a sculpture made of plastic waste.
Photograph: Courtesy of Kiehl's

The beauty brand's sustainability goals align with the city's commitments to reuse and recycle. She hopes the sculpture will inspire behavioral change and increase collaboration across sectors. 

Though the sculpture speaks to contemporary issues in 2024, its inspiration dates back several decades. In 1988, Kiehl’s sponsored a Mount Everest Expedition—the first ascent of the mountain’s East Face without supplemental oxygen. As it turns out, the 600 or so people who attempt to summit Mount Everest each climbing season leave behind (18 pounds) of trash each, with most of the waste left on the mountain. Today, Everest is so overcrowded and full of trash that it has been called the "world's highest garbage dump."

The sculptor with his plastic waste sculpture.
Photograph: Courtesy of Kiehl's

This year, Kiehl’s is going back to Everest in partnership with Sagarmatha Next and Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee’s Carry Me Back initiative to help remove and recycle 22 tons of waste over two years from Everest National Park and the Khumbu region in Nepal. 

While Everest's pollution may seem to be an extremely distant problem for New Yorkers, the Manhattan sculpture hopes to remind all who visit about the pollution problems we all face and how we can take small steps to help.

Popular on Time Out

    More on green cities
      You may also like
      You may also like