Spray Painted Trash Trophies

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Some finished trash trophies!


This page shows you how to build your own "gold spray painted trash trophies".

For a special litter picking up challenge in 2015 I got together with some fellow Googler employees and we built something I'd always wanted to try: a trophy made purely of reused trash. The inspiration was largely from a Steampunk exhibit I saw at Maker Faire 2014 where I observed that even and old plastic Nerf guy, painted with metallic colors (silver and bronze in this case) - looked really, really fantastic. The concept I wanted here was to take litter and garbage, and turn it into a trophy that teams who collected the most garbage, would be proud to win. And the end results was pretty great.

Gold spray-paint is incredible stuff. One man's trash can become another man's trophy.


These before and after spray paint pictures tell the story. But keep in mind some imagination... you can create your own trophies for any competition, and you can build them with any manner of interesting dis-guarded waste.

Some Finished Trophies

Let start with some inspiration. Here are some pics of the finished trophies, before we gave them all away to different teams after our cleanup event. People really loved the trophies and we even put them on display for a week prior to the event. Lots of people stopped by to look at them in fascination. Pity I didn't have this page to refer people to at that point. :)

For each trophy I'll typed a little bit about materials/technique/inspiration.

Silliest team name

This "silliest team name" trophy was the first trophy I built, and was pretty proud. In terms of adhesives, I used super glue only, but notice that the base of the old tea kettle (surprise find in a dumpster) fit perfectly into the black desk riser base, so I got lucky. The unusual croc and other thing stuffed nicely into the kettle so not too much glue was required.

Mystery prize

The "mystery prize" is a weird assortment, but once again it helped a lot that it was a container on top, so I could stuff a lot of things into it with minimal glue needed. Unlike the tea put however, this water jug didn't fit into the inner rim of the desk riser, so my solution was to cut a round piece of foam that did, then superglue it to the bottom of the container. What's good about this, is you can spray paint the whole top, wait overnight for it to dry, and then put the top into the bottom, meaning you don't have to worry about getting gold paint on your base.


This is a special trophy which I made for a talented muralist and street artists called Shawn Bullen who volunteered to paint (out of his own pocket), a huge mural representing a clean world, as part of our project. Shawn is an inspiring guy, and hopefully he'll come out spear fishing with me some day soon! In the meantime, to show appreciated it was only fitting to create an "art" themed painting. I started with a square base, and then cut a piece of floral foam the right shape to fit in. Then I pushed in an old brush, used spray paint can, and a couple of pens... then lots of superglue to make sure it didn't shift. This was the smallest trophy, but I like the shape, and Shawn loved it! As someone who spray paints for a living he was nice enough not to comment that our paint job wasn't very even.

Check out some of Shawn's professional spray painting here: shawnbullen.com

The artwork Shawn did for us featured lots of gold spray paint... I'd like to think we inspired him a little with our gold trophy, which we gave just before his painting commenced. :-P

Largest area covered

The "largest area covered" trophy, I decided needed a toy truck... so basically that's all it is. A toy halo truck someone threw away, and I actually owned for 3 years after I found it dis-guarded. That really makes me sound like a hoarded, but actually my home is very neat. This particular truck had odd sentimental value for a really good friend of mine from Australia. Long story. To attach the truck to the trophy base I cut a correctly sized square out of foam, then super-glued it to the underside of the truck... which is actually pretty cool, because you can attach and reattach the truck at will, and the tires still spin.

Second place trophy

The "second place" trophy is fairly large, but what I'd like to point out is the use of masking tape to lock together unusual items like clothes hangers, to a pringles can which fit into the base. Also, the sole builder, Jill North, decided to take some weird hair-like thingy she found and span that. Not many trophies have hair, but I think it was pretty interesting... although painting the hair was pretty tricky!

First place trophy

The "first place" trophy was the largest we built by far... and barely fit into the back seat of my car. The base is a huge black planter I got from Home Depot, and we had to drill a similar sized bucket (which I actually found on the road) onto the top of that for the major support. Actually I drilled a few more holes, but also found that for the little caster wheels I pulled off an old office chair, I could "drill" holes with scissors into the soft bucket, and just slot the wheels in. They stayed pretty well. For lots of the bottle caps, we used push pins to attach them. We also did a few other strange things to get everything to hold, plus some super glue... a little of everything actually! Notice we had to sacrifice one of our litter grabbers, but it was totally worth it. This trophy actually needed more than one bottle and three layers to paint nicely. Yup -= large can be a lot more work, but really fun... just make sure it's stable to pick up if you plan to hand it to someone. Fortunately this was pretty easy to lift from the bucket handles on top.

All trophies with a nice black backing sheet

All trophies next to car... this gives a good idea of scale


To build a "Spray Painted Trash Trophy", the three basic components you'll need are:

  1. Some Trash - whatever interesting/intricate shapes you can find.
  2. Adhesive - for a small trophy superglue works great to stick it together.
  3. Metallic Spray Paint - I recommend gold.

Sound easy? It totally is, but one spray bottle and some superglue will only cover you for a small and basic trophy (i.e. a single army figurine stuck onto a can). If you're building a larger or more sophisticated trophy you may want to get a little better prepared.

Trash Options

Even if you have a vision beforehand, the type of litter you find may completely alter your vision and give new inspiration.

  • Old footwear - flip flops, crocs, gumboot, high heels, ...
  • Old toys - toy trucks, army figurines, model plane, matchbox cars, broken lego, baby toys, toy guns, ...
  • Old sports equipment - shuttlecock, tennis ball, ping-pong bat, throwing disc, darts, ...
  • Old kitchen supplies - plastic cutlery, broken blender, chopsticks, ...
  • Old electrics - compute motherboard, fan, hairdryer, ...
  • Old cleaning supplies - head of a broom,
  • Old garden supplies - a bucket, plastic flowers, gloves, ...
  • Old random things - metal springs, random metal pieces, ...
  • Old containers - pringles can, soft-drink bottle, water bottles, bottle caps, etc.

It's a goldmine out there. Search your house and/or neighborhood dumpster and you should find plenty of inspiration for a trophy. Don't go crazy though - keep in mind you need to piece it together into something resembling a trophy. Keep in mind that items with intricate details (think Lego and little nuts and bolts) make the funkiest looking product, but more pieces also means more adhesive and time to assemble.

Most importantly of all... you probably want it to stand upright. So perhaps the best place to start is a trophy base!

Trophy Base Options

You don't necessarily need something that looks like a trophy base, but realistically you probably need some kind of base for your masterpiece to sit on. Here's some good options:

  • Desk risers - I found 6 inch black desk risers worked well. The indent in the top was a perfect size to squeeze in a Pringle container, or sculpted foamed without needing glue.
  • Buckets or plant pots - any kind of upside down container will do, but big buckets are great because you can drill screws into them if you need stability.

Consider weight. If you want a really tall trophy, then you might want an actual pot! For me I chose the desk risers, because they were already a great color and shape.

Adhesive Options

Your vision is coming together, but now you think: oh crap, how do I stick this together?! If it is only light stuff superglue might be all you need, but for larger things you might find yourself needing search further into the hardware store.

  • Superglue - I've tried other glues but the little cheap ones always stick best for me. Gorilla glue is for gorillas.
  • Duct tape - if you want to reduce the glue you use, larger items, like tins, can often be secured to each other pretty firmly with duct tape or masking tape. Keep in mind the tape will be visible after spray-painting, but I personally don't mind the effect at all.
  • Push pins - for attaching small plastic things, like bottle caps into the sides of a bucket, I found push pins were nice and easy.
  • Nuts and bolts - for the tallest trophies, you probably want to attach some large support pieces to your base... and they need to be very firmly attached. I hope you own a drill!
  • Wire - don't forget thin wire as something you can twist around your structure.
  • String - maybe you want to wrap it up with some string or fishing line.
  • Floral Foam - if your trash consists of lots of little, thin pieces... like cutlery and the like, maybe all you really need is [1]. With the right type of foam, you just stick it in, and no glue is needed! Maybe this could be your trophy base too! This is great if you have little kids and you're worried about the idea of them handling glue or power tools.
  • Other pieces of trash - if you have a good eye, you'll often just notice pieces that will wrap around other things, or fit together nicely. If you stuff a can with enough cutlery, and a few other random pieces of packing foam or plastic fragments, it may just hold totally tight. Shake it to check.

Handy Tools

If you get serious, you might like to have on standby:

  • Scissors - for cutting little pieces of plastic into shape, or making little holes for things to poke into.
  • Drill - for support pieces on a huge trophy, and because it's fun.
  • Glue gun - if you want to get really serious!

If you got really serious you'd want a saw and welder too... but if that were the case I figure you'd want to go all metal, and you should search for metal welding pages.

Spray Paint Options

  • Metallic spray paint - I recommend the $3 Rust-Oleum from WallMart. Notice the can should says "bonds to plastic" and this is very important because many types and brands I tried didn't stick well to plastic, and gave a worse result, even after multiple layers. I also tried silver, but gold looks the fanciest in my opinion. Maybe the media programs us that way.
  • Black spray paint - Useful if you want a black under-layer... or a black trophy base. I found the cheap $1 WallMart cans (ColorPlace Gloss Spray Paint, Black) sufficed for this.

Couple of things to keep in mine:

  1. Have a nice place to paint - grass works well, or get lots of newspaper.
  2. Apply pain evenly, then leave overnight to dry (or a few hours at least) for each layer.
  3. You'll probably want at least 2 layers. You'll know as you paint, but for just 1 layer, you'll probably see the colors underneath in many places. You'll also want to hold it and try to spray into every angle (inside tubes is hard) to get everything.
  4. Use gloves, otherwise you will have golden hands and fingernails for a while.
  5. Consider a mask, as the fumes are relatively toxic and bad for you over prolonged time. Ask any spray paint artist.
  6. You'll probably want to buy more than one can. If you're doing just one trophy, one can may suffice, but for the larger trophy (>1m tall and pictured below) I needed multiple cans, and for all the trophies displayed here I went through about 5 cans of gold and 2 of black.