Cardboard isn’t the first material that comes to mind when people think of art. Artists use a variety of mediums to express themselves, be it paint, clay, or even bronze, but cardboard boxes are usually used to transport their work - not create it. The cardboard is then discarded – hopefully to be recycled – and not thought of again.

Since becoming a right leg amputee over 20 years ago, James Lake works with the medium of cardboard to create large scale 3D sculptural pieces. He was previously commissioned to create works for National Paralympic Day and The Liberty Festival. James was commissioned to create a sculpture that highlights the need for recycling and finding more sustainable solutions to waste management.

To find out more about James and his work, watch the video below.

After conducting a study of over 2000 British citizens, packaging company Rajapack, found that although people in the UK understand the importance of recycling, in practice we don’t always recycle everything we could.

Taking inspiration from Earth Overshoot Day, which is falling earlier every year, James created a cardboard sculpture which shows the size the earth would need to be to support the speed we are consuming the Earth’s resources. At the centre of the sculpture sits the Earth, and encasing half of it is a shell 1.7 times larger. This larger size represents how much bigger the earth would need to be for our current consumption to be manageable.

What do we value?

James explains, “At any one time, half of the earth will be enclosed with a larger half sphere to represent the overconsumption of ecological resources; a visual depiction of the resources we currently consume which can’t be replenished.” The sculpture hopes to illustrate the fact that as humans we can’t continue being such a throwaway society.

The results of the Rajapack survey suggest that although 94% of British adults say they care about the environment, almost half (47%) believe they could make more of an effort to recycle. Despite this, only 76% of respondents reported recycling aluminium cans every time – even though nearly everyone claimed to be aware that they are recyclable (96%).

Cardboard came out as the most recycled material in the UK, with 79% of people reporting that they always recycled it. And while this is a step in the right direction, should we all be thinking about alternatives to being such a throwaway society? As James and his artworks demonstrate, with a little creativity and commitment, one man’s trash can truly become another man’s treasure.

There’s a lot to be learnt from James’s journey of working with carboard and the accessibility it gives him to create sculptures from a commonplace and recyclable material. For James, the time spent crafting and creating work out of an inexpensive recyclable material gives it value. Although utilitarian, this material enables James to create unique sculptures, based on the themes of humanity, strength and vulnerability, that challenge people to think. If we all take time to think about how effective we can be by recycling, and acting on it, we can begin on the path to a more sustainable future.