Last Updated on November 2, 2023

Nestled in the magnificent Rocky Mountains southwest of Denver, Breckenridge, CO offers world-class skiing in the winter and scenic hiking in the summer.

To me, however, what made my autumn 2023 visit so special was the town’s strong sense of community. Even visiting for just a few days, I could see and feel Breckenridge’s united commitment to art and the natural environment.

One place to experience this is at the Fuqua Livery Stable where Breck Create partners with Precious Plastics to transform plastic waste into art and awareness. Residents donate colorful recyclable materials and the Breck Create team helps workshop participants get creative.

Community Commitment

Upon entering the Fuqua Livery Stable, the first thing that caught my eye was the wall of bags filled with all sizes and shapes of plastic items. The plastic was sorted horizontally by type of plastic and vertically by color. Breckinridge residents donated items to the #1, #2, #5, and #6 containers after washing them and removing any labels.

A metal shredder sat near a three-foot-tall bin overflowing with clear boxes. After donning safety glasses, everyone in my group had the opportunity to choose an item to shred.

As the claws of the machine grabbed the plastic, a satisfying crunch turned the plastic into one-centimeter-wide bits. We watched an overhead screen as a camera provided a good view of the destruction of the plastics – on their way to becoming a possible new creative product.

The Precious Plastics partnership began as a desire to avoid adding multicolored mountains of discarded plastic sleds to the snowscape. Community members decided to make art out of the sleds that were broken or merely left behind by tourists. This expanded into finding a use for the many types of plastic in the area that are not easily recyclable.

Unique Art Creations

Breck Create with Precious Plastics grinder.
Breck Create with Precious Plastics grinder. Photo by Judy Karnia

After some fun shredding, Nicole Sletta, who runs the Precious Plastics program, brought our group into another room in the historic stable where the creative magic happens. She explained how she set up the processes to use the sheet press, extruder and injection machine by trial and error.

Sletta started college as a fibers major and switched to sculpture, all the while contributing to environmental cleanups. Her dedication to helping the environment and creating beautiful, useful objects radiated from her. She proudly showed us a re-created sled that she was trying to perfect which the members of our tour group marveled at.

We learned that the sheet press can melt 20 pounds of the small ribbons of plastic into a board. By selecting certain colors, interesting pieces of art are produced.

The extruder then makes filaments that can be woven into baskets or drizzled over shapes to make a lightweight bowl. I would have paid good money for that delicate turquoise and ultramarine blue dish if it had been for sale.

Breck Create even offers classes at the stable which raise awareness of the program while teaching the techniques used there. A recent class used the injection machine to pour liquid plastic into molds to create carabiners.

Residents and visitors at least 17-years-old can sign up for “Precious Plastics: Injection 101” held on Friday evenings.

Break Create

Breck Create Arts District Breckenridge.
Breck Create Arts District Breckenridge. Photo by Judy Karnia

Breck Create defines its mission as “managing the Town of Breckenridge’s exceptional arts facilities and public art assets” and “supporting and collaborating with local artists, organizations, and businesses.”

The organization strives to improve the quality of life for full-time and part-time residents as well as attract visitors who enjoy art and value the preservation of the environment.

As I walked from Main Street towards the Blue River, the stunning architecture of the glass and steel Riverwalk Center was an impressive site on the opposite bank. This 750-seat performance venue is heated for winter events, but can open its large doors onto the spacious lawn for warmer days.

Breck Create holds performances and art exhibitions at the Center and in public spaces around town. The Precious Plastics program fits well into its aim of inspiring creativity while providing education and awareness.

Fuqua Livery Stable

Fuqua Livery Stable in Breckenridge Arts District.
Fuqua Livery Stable in Breckenridge Arts District. Photo by Judy Karnia

The Breckenridge Arts District contains a mixture of restored mining-era buildings and more recently constructed structures. These spaces offer classes as well as open studio time for a variety of art creations, including ceramics, silversmithing, glass blowing, printmaking and textiles.

Back in the 1880s, Fuqua Livery Stable housed horses for the mining town but fell into disrepair over time. In 2009, the Town of Breckenridge hired architect Peter Stewart to return the stable to a functional space while retaining its historic look.

A steel frame holds glass panels inside the original wooden walls. This provides a clean, insulated work space while allowing the historic feel of the stable to be maintained. Standing inside the building, I felt a strong connection to the past while learning about this program that is helping to bring us into the future.

Precious Plastics

Breck Create’s program at the Fuqua Livery Stable received its machinery and techniques from Precious Plastics. This worldwide organization strives to use the small actions of many communities around the world to achieve large results.

Over ten years, more than 800 groups have joined the effort, supporting and learning from each other.

Dave Hakkens began developing Precious Plastics while studying at the Design Academy in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Through open-source sharing of information and collaboration with others interested in reducing the amount of waste in the world, machines and processes were developed to support the cause.

The Precious Plastics website educates and guides individuals or groups on how to start up their own programs in their community. Starter kits include various machines and instructions based on what type of work will be performed at the site.

Dozens of YouTube videos show how to assemble and use the machines to make a large variety of products. Waste plastic has been turned into interesting artwork, sunglasses, furniture, boats, and walls, many of which are for sale on the Precious Plastics website.

Breck Create’s Precious Plastics program demonstrates the community’s commitment to the environment, art, and education.

By removing plastic waste from landfills and transforming it into colorful products, the organization provides a valuable service to the quality of life of its residents and visitors.

I so enjoyed learning about the process and look forward to seeking out similar programs in other towns.

What do you think?

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2 Comments
  • Phyl Doppelt
    November 3, 2023

    This was a well-written article highlighting a global problem — and a creative and sustainable way that one city is dealing with the growing mountain of plastic.

    • Noreen Kompanik
      December 2, 2023

      Thank you, Phyl. Judy did a really nice job!