Cycle and Recycle: gorgeous photos of the European recycling process

Paul Bulteel's forthcoming art book, Cycle & Recycle, collects the Belgian photographer's series of images from Europe's massive, advanced recycling program, which captures 43% of the region's waste (the EU is shooting for 65% of municipal waste by 2030).

He started Cycle & Recycle in late 2013. While exploring Antwerp harbor, he stumbled on mounds of crushed building materials often used as a base for new roads. He snapped a photo, and realized that making pictures of recycling was a more optimistic way of talking about waste. Over the next year and a half, Bulteel visited 50 recycling operations throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxemburg. Some were part of multinational conglomerates, while others were locally owned businesses. The materials they recycled were equally diverse. Some did it all. But others specialized in things like clothing or tires. Everywhere Bulteel went, he was astounded by the enormous volume of material passing through each raucous factory. "It makes you realize what enormous quantities of material we extract from and leave behind on this planet," he says.

The images convey that beautifully, and the images are so gorgeous it's easy to forget you're looking at trash. A pile of orange and pink pyro cables resembles an artsy sculptural installation. Tinned copper pulled from electrical motors looks like bundles of human hair. Neatly stacked tires create an almost hypnotic pattern. Bulteel shoots each scene simply, placing the colors, textures and sheer volume of the refuse front and center.

Cycle & Recycle [Paul Bulteel/Hatje Cantz

Trash Is Ugly, But Recycling Is Downright Beautiful [Laura Mallonee]