Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Drawing Theory and Resources

Tape Alternatives

Sara Ottomano
In the Art Studio, we are always considering the environmental impact of art-making in our programs.

After committing to ending our usage of plastics as materials, we have devoted significant time in researching sustainability as well as specific ways to lessen our environmental impacts. We’d like to share with you our findings on tape, as this has been the most difficult to find a more sustainable solution for.

Colorful stack of masking tape

The pros and cons of tape

We have loved using our masking tape and clear tape in the Art Studio, in mobile projects, wearable art projects, collaborative installations, and even our organizing systems. The masking tape is colorful, easy to tear, you can write on it, and remove it from non-porous surfaces easily. However, despite that it tears like tape, it is not certified curbside recyclable. This means that with each project, we have to throw away the used tape.

When we deconstruct displays of artwork, we carefully take the materials apart and sort them for trash, recycling, or reuse, with the hopes of reusing as many materials as possible. Even with careful sorting however, (since hundreds of people make art during one project in the Art Studio) that can mean a lot of tape goes directly into the trash.

Finding tape alternatives

With all this in mind, we have been searching the past two years for tape alternatives that allow for easier sorting, are curbside recyclable, and still provide colorful options. We have found a variety of recyclable tape options, however not all of them are certified recyclable. (For example, washi tape which is a type of paper tape, is not certified recyclable or biodegradable.) Some provide color options, but they are water-activated. (A process that we haven’t tested within our space and would require more creative thinking around how we’d set-up that experience for guests of all ages.) And some tapes are biodegradable, which would make sorting further complicated to make sure that it was properly disposed of.

In thinking this all through, we came across two solutions that work well, even as we are limited to individual-use materials during the pandemic. One is to create your own tape using collage papers and adhesive, and one is using zero-waste label liners as tape.

Collage-Paper Tape

Using left-over paper and glue you can make your own tape!

Scissors, painted papers, and a glue stick

We call this collage-paper tape, and we have been using it in the Art Studio for a long time while problem-solving with guests. If a guest asked for tape, and it wasn’t available, we would respond, “What are you hoping to use the tape for?” That would often spark a conversation about what they’d like to attach together, and that tape is essentially paper with an adhesive on one side. We’d then look at the papers together to decide which piece they’d like to use to make their own tape.

Collage-paper tape can provide a lot of options for artistic choice; you can decide what shape it is, what size, and what patterns or colors you’d like. Once the shapes have been cut, you can add glue to the back, and apply as you would tape. 
In one of our recent EAPs, guests made a sign and a flower using collage-paper tape, collage papers, tacky glue, and paper straws. One artist decided to match their tape color to the color of their collage flower. Another artist chose to use a contrasting color, which showed through the hole punch on the front of the sign.

Depending upon the adhesive, the collage-paper tape can take different amounts of time to dry. A glue stick has the fastest hold, but tacky glue has the strongest. It is helpful to choose your adhesive based upon the materials you’d like to attach together, the time you have to wait, and whether you’d like to easily deconstruct the project later for reuse.

Zero-Waste Label Stickers

One of the exciting products we have found in our research is EcoEnclose’s zero-waste stickers and labels. Not only are their products curbside recyclable, they are also partially or completely made from recycled content. They are the only company so far that we have found that offers a recyclable liner, something that is often coated in plastic to release the sticker. We recently purchased the BPA-free, zero-waste direct thermal label to be the tape in one of our EAPs.

Colorful stickers

 We tested out our glue rubbing plates and beeswax crayons on the labels. Although the crayons colored the label, the color was more subtle. It was fun to cut the larger labels into smaller stickers, choosing to cut them straight like tape strips or cutting them to different sizes.

After trying out the crayons, we decided to test out our markers on the labels. The markers showed up vibrantly on the labels, and have been a lot of fun to design on the larger sheet to then cut up. We imagine designing the tape could be an engaging part of an EAP in the future. 
Patterned stickers and markers
After cutting them into different shapes, we then provided them within our paper found material diorama project. This artist chose to use their label tape in three different ways in this artwork: to keep the box flap open, to attach the flying paper pterodactyl to the straw support from the ceiling, and to attach the paper-cup rock to the bottom of the box. In all three cases, the tape was strong enough to hold the paper materials together.
Cardboard box diorama with paper sculptures inside

While we are happy to have found recyclable options to tape, we will still continue to research products, test materials, and design with sustainability in mind. We hope that this post inspires you to consider sustainability within your artmaking!


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator from 2016-2023 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.

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