San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Eco-Art ‘Zoo’ Gives New Life to Old Plastic

It’s amazing what you can do with recycled bottles and other plastic throwaways.

High school teacher José Fabio Víquez has created a whole zoo of flying birds, ponies children can mount, crocodiles, elephants with swinging trunks and tails and lots more in his yard in the western Central Valley coffee town of Atenas.

Zoológico ReciArte also has traditional games: Yo-yos, ring toss, balls, tops and toys in the play area demonstrate that old bottles – cleaned, painted and shaped – can be useful. Another part of the zoo features miniature trains, cars, trucks and carts, all made from plastic bottles and compact disks.

Beware of the animals! An enormous coral snake sneaks around a tree, and giant insects and mosquitoes fly on nylon strings, ready to buzz whoever comes by. Supersized spiders dangle, and strings of colorful butterflies float through the air. Overhead are airplanes and helicopters with propellers that spin in the wind, all made from used plastic bottles, while twirling, glittery silver balls made of discarded CDs grace the trees.

There’s more. A plastic jícara tree with a plastic monkey hanging from it, ready to jump down, is surrounded by a garden of colorful plastic plants and flowers. In the back area, there’s a row of lanterns and faroles, the kind children carry in torchlight parades on the eve of Independence Day. And everything is made from “junk.” This includes the signs at the gate inviting the public in, two of which are bottle-shaped and light up.

Víquez, 50, who teaches technical design and computer graphics at the Atenas high school, says that as a kid he was always inventing things. About eight years ago, concerned about the environment and all the plastic thrown into landfills, he began tinkering, using a blowtorch, paints, nylon cord and a few other tools. He now has a workshop where he makes his critters and shows others how to work with used plastic. With some of the animals, he makes smaller versions first, which then become babies for the larger versions.

Víquez finds material at a neighborhood store and a nearby recycling center. Different grades of plastic are used for different constructions – heavier bottles for legs, for example, and lighter weight for manes, leaves and udders. Bottle caps make good eyes, and, when strung on nylon cord, make flexible tails that swish and swing. Víquez’s wife, Gladys Molina, also dabbles in plastic art, and some of the creatures are hers. Víquez says she uses a different technique involving heavy cardboard wrapped in plastic.

“There are more than 150 items in this collection, and, because plastic lasts more than 100 years in the environment, they will outlast me,” Víquez says, adding that he enjoys having schoolchildren come to learn how recycled materials can be made useful.

Open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Zoológico ReciArte is 120 meters west of the Red Cross in Atenas, next door to Kay’s Gringo Postres. From the Central Park, go two blocks west, past the market and bus station, turn left and follow the curve at the Red Cross. Used-plastic signs at the gate will invite you in, and the price is an easy ¢500 ($0.90).

Víquez also makes garden decorations from recycled materials with advance orders. For more information, call Víquez or Molina at 2446-7601, or e-mail


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