Prove your humanity

Turning Trash into Art to Save Urban Wildlife

Rebecca Reid knew it was a long shot, but she emailed Portuguese street artist Bordalo II anyway. She’d seen his large murals depicting wildlife on Facebook.

“What struck me about his work,” Reid says, “was how this guy had managed to express this being, and the spirit of these different animal species, with bits of trash. It was completely fascinating to me.”

Bordalo II’s trash animals series features wildlife like deer fashioned from trash, including tires and old appliances.

“He sees animals as the victims of human action, and human pollution in particular,” Reid says.

Reid is volunteer with Scrap the Trap Pittsburgh, a group that advocates for more humane treatment of urban wildlife. She thought a Bordalo piece in the city would help bring attention to the issue. And he agreed.

For three days he and an assistant worked in the summer heat, cutting up plastic trash cans, broken toys and car parts, painting them, and affixing them to an outside wall at Construction Junction, a nonprofit where you can donate and buy recycled building materials.

Now, between two dumpsters, a baby raccoon with huge, plastic bubble eyes peers at onlookers. It almost seems to be clinging to the building, and its back paw, made from a toy car, dangles playfully.

“I literally get choked up when I see it, just because it’s so beautiful,” says Melissa Mongelli, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer at Construction Junction.

LISTEN: “Turning Trash into Art to Save Urban Wildlife”

The raccoon’s face is modeled after one of three baby raccoons Mongelli says they found in their dumpster. And many of the materials for the piece came from their store. Mongelli says the artwork really speaks to what Construction Junction is all about–taking something that was going to be thrown away, and making it new again.

“He has a message of disposability, which I think really fits with what we at Scrap the Trap are trying to do,” Rebecca Reid says. “You know, the disposability of these plastic items that are shipped from the other side of the world, and we use them for a year and then throw them out.”

“He has a message of disposability, which I think really fits with what we at Scrap the Trap are trying to do.”

For Reid, the trash in Bordalo’s work mirrors the way some see the wildlife that live in our backyards as disposable. Scrap the Trap would like to change that.

Rebecca Reid hopes the large raccoon depiction by Portuguese street artist Bordalo II will draw attention to the treatment of urban wildlife. Photo: Kara Holsopple

Reid says they want the city to completely revise its policy on handling conflicts between residents and wildlife. Pittsburgh residents can call Animal Care and Control to order a trap for any wildlife that are causing issues for them. There’s a $40 deposit on a trap. When an animal is caught, the city will come and pick it up. The Pennsylvania Game Commission requires the city and companies with permits to trap what they call nuisance wildlife, to euthanize any trapped raccoons, groundhogs and skunks because they are disease vectors, meaning they can carry the rabies virus.

Doug Bergman is a Wildlife Conservation Officer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission who works in the Pittsburgh area. He says any of the rabies vector species can carry the virus, and never show a symptom, so euthanizing these animals once they are trapped is necessary. But he says keeping them off of our porches and out of our trash in the first place is an even better way to handle wildlife.

Prevention is what Rebecca Reid and Scrap the Trap are advocating. She says she’d like trapping wildlife to happen only in emergencies.

“Raccoons in particular are not going to hang out on your porch because they like your porch swing,” Reid says.

Recycling that hasn’t been properly rinsed, open trash cans and even gardens with rickety fencing are all tempting for wildlife, and Reid says, are problems easily fixed. Even when an animal gets into a home or building, Reid says there are other solutions besides trapping.

“There are harassment methods you can use to literally evict the animal from the home,” Reid says. “You can use a one-way door. You just sort of fix it onto the hole they’re getting into. Basically they can get out but they can’t get in again.”

Then it’s up to the home or building owner to block the hole. Reid says in her experience with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, most residents do care about the welfare of wildlife, and don’t want to see animals killed, even if they are afraid of them. She says they just want their particular issue with a skunk or a raccoon family to be resolved. And she hopes the mural of a baby raccoon can help start a dialogue in Pittsburgh about long term solutions that work for both people and wildlife.


We requested an interview with the city, but officials declined to make anyone available.