Ingrid Goelz takes recycling to the next level in her latest mural—made with discarded plastic lids

The California artist wants you to think twice before you throw something away

Stepping out of the car, the first thing I realize is that the mural is massive. It sits on nine wooden panels, totaling 36 feet long. Oranges, browns, and greens make up the rolling Central California hills, while blues and purples comprise the swelling Pacific Ocean. Softer whites and tans represent the beach and shoreline, and the coral that runs along the bottom is a dark, stormy gray.

At first glance, Ingrid Goelz’s mural looks like one you’ve probably seen countless times—a collage of colors and layered shapes gracing the side of an old concrete wall. But upon closer inspection, something is different about this one. It seems to have more dimension, more energy.

"Let's Turn This Tide!" mural in Cayucos, California
The “Let’s Turn This Tide!” mural in Cayucos, California. | Photo: Amanda Bungartz

Tucked away in the parking lot of the Cayucos Veterans Hall, in the sleepy little beachside town of Cayucos, California, you’ll find “Let’s Turn This Tide!,” Goelz’s first mural made entirely of plastic lids.

“I was throwing out a jar of Skippy peanut butter one morning and I stopped to look at the turquoise lid,” Goelz recalls. “I just started noticing all these colors around me, and I realized I wanted to make something with them.”

A day at the aquarium

Goelz has been creating art her whole life, but it wasn’t until she took a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few years ago that she decided she wanted to make art out of plastic and recycled materials.

“I’ve just gone kind of nuts with the recycling.”

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a huge recycled art feature,” she tells me. “I was looking at their sardines and I thought to myself, ‘I can make those out of wine foil.’”

Her first piece ended up being a school of small fish made entirely out of recycled plastic wrap and wine foil. From there, Goelz moved on to jellyfish built from bubble wrap, sea anemones made from water bottles, and abalone shells cut out of milk cartons.

“I’ve just gone kind of nuts with the recycling,” she says with a laugh.

A school of fish made from wine foil. | Photo courtesy of Ingrid Goelz
Fish and coral made from plastic. | Photo courtesy of Ingrid Goelz

Unanimous decision

After that fateful morning with the peanut butter, Goelz started looking up plastic lid art online, and she was amazed at what she found. “There is a whole world of plastic bottle cap art,” she says. “There’s a woman in New York who creates huge portraits from bottle caps. I learned from her that if you nest different caps together, you can make gradations of color.”

After researching as much as she could about lid art, Goelz decided she wanted to go above and beyond her wine foil fish and make a mural. So she began asking people to save their lids.

“Word spread about the mural and people just started sending me lids,” she says. “I’ve actually been receiving lids in the mail from all over. I just got some from Eugene, Oregon the other day.”

With a permit from the city and a deluge of lids, Goelz began the arduous process of mapping out her mural. But she still needed to figure out a very key component: the scene.

“I keep saying I’m going to make waterfalls and flowers, and all I keep doing is making fish.”

She started laying out her ideas in a big sketchbook, and ultimately landed on three different options: flowers, colorful shapes, or the ocean. After consulting with friends and family, the decision was unanimous. Everyone wanted to see the ocean.

“I keep saying I’m going to make waterfalls and flowers, and all I keep doing is making fish,” Goelz says. “I think it’s subliminal because I live near the ocean and there’s so much plastic pollution in the seas.”

And on November 1, 2018, after hours of researching and consulting with family and friends, Goelz began to materialize “Let’s Turn This Tide!”

Art for good

Stapled to the very last panel of the mural is a personal note from Goelz, where she shares a bit about the purpose behind the project and makes a request for more yellow lids.

A personal note from Goelz can be found at the end of the mural
A personal note from Goelz can be found at the end of the mural. | Photo: Amanda Bungartz

And while the mural isn’t completely filled yet, Goelz hopes to finish this summer. But, in reality, it won’t ever be truly finished.

Goelz makes a point of drilling the lids into the panels, rather than gluing them, so she can move, change, and maintain the mural over time. “I don’t think it will ever be done,” she says. “I think this is going to be a lifelong project for me.”

After taking in the full 36-foot masterpiece, I realize that Goelz’s plastic mural is not just an ode to her beloved beach town or even a new form of recycling, but rather an entirely new view on what most of us consider to be trash. This “trash” has become both an untapped resource and beautiful in its own right. And the benefits of this type of recycled artwork are myriad, not only in what it can do for the environment but in its ability to move us beyond what has long been presumed the endpoint of the creative process.

A small inscription says "Think beyond single use plastics."
A small inscription says “Think beyond single use plastics.” | Photo: Amanda Bungartz

“I want more and more people to look at plastic in different ways,” Goelz says. “I hope that people see this mural and have an awareness of how easy it is to throw things away—things that can be made into something truly beautiful.”

I think we can all look at our peanut butter jars a little differently now.

If you go

“Let’s Turn This Tide!” is located right off Ocean Front Avenue, in the parking lot next to the Cayucos Veterans Hall. If you stop by, feel free to drop off some plastic lids at the Cayucos Art Association, which is located right next door to the Veterans Hall. The Art Association building is open every day except Tuesdays from 1 to 4 p.m. and features galleries from local artists.