One man's trash is another man's treasure, they say, and that evidently holds true for artist Denise Chen Hui-lien. The scrap paper and packing foam she scrounges from dump sites near her studio in Chai Wan often wind up in her mixed-media creations. Among Chen's recent efforts is a lamp assembled from waste cardboard and wire that's both simple and stylish. 'I don't want the piece to look recycled even if it is made from cast-offs,' Chen says. 'It should look good and be functional so people want to use it.' Chen's lamp is on display at a show entitled Protect the Environment, Light Up the Earth, which also features creations by artists Tsang Tak-ping and Gloria Yip Wan-yee, architect Barrie Ho Chow-lai and local design students. By giving discarded objects a second life as light fittings, the exhibition seeks to chip away at Hong Kong's throwaway culture. Whether using natural or manufactured material, each item reflects an inquiry into some aspect of the environment. 'I hope my works can inspire people to think more deeply and broadly about what a green life should be,' says Tsang, an associate professor of design at the Polytechnic University. 'Being green isn't just about growing plants at home or complying with environmental regulations. It's a value of living - an awareness and sensitivity to people, the environment and resources.' Among his contributions is a small lampshade made from layers of garlic skin. It should last three to four years as long as low-wattage bulbs are used, he says, which is quite a long time in an era of built-in product obsolescence. Inspired by German activist/artist Joseph Beuys, Tsang believes in the power of art to effect social change but concedes it will come slowly. 'I don't think people will become more concerned about the environment just because our works are made from recycled materials.' The impact of art isn't so direct, he says, but it may prompt viewers to think beyond the superficial. Chen says it's time to rethink our way of life and curb wasteful habits. 'Being eco-friendly is a simple idea that the older generations have long practised. But we've become so used to gratuitous consumption and expediency in this city, the concept of cherishing resources has become a lost virtue,' she says. Taiwan-born Chen, who often uses fallen leaves, bark and other natural materials collected from around her Discovery Bay home, says it's a common practice for artists on the island to work with recycled material. So when setting up her studio, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that Chai Wan offered a wealth of different raw materials - discarded cardboard, packing paper, foam and the like. 'I didn't think there would be stuff I could pick up in the industrial district,' she says. 'But it's good training because you can experiment with the materials without having to buy them.' Similar thinking has made master scavengers of fellow artists such as Yip, Carol Lee Mei-kuen and Fo Tan-based Wong Tin-yan, who fashions scrap timber from nearby factories into animal sculptures. 'Some people quicken their steps when passing rubbish collection points but I take a peek,' says Lee, whose studio is filled with bits of old furniture, chandeliers and discarded wood. She recently turned scrap planks into an installation that explored the way people are increasingly isolated despite easier communication in the age of globalisation. Glass bottles - collected from restaurants and friends - are being crafted into a series on the deterioration of human relationships. Glass makes a great medium for the theme, she says. 'Its transparency enables us to see through, yet there's a barrier that conveys distance between people.' For Yip, who has stuffed her storeroom with photo frames, perfume bottles and accessories collected from friends, the scraps are as much a source of ideas as material for her works. 'You never know when you will use them. I may add them into my art pieces bit by bit but sometimes they inspire me to create works too,' she says. She often makes use of the detritus from her daily life, including film left from pre-digital camera days and the reams of junk mail she receives every day. 'It's such a waste of paper; I doubt many people actually read them,' she says. But rather than toss it all into the rubbish bin, Yip has woven more than 200 promotional cards - a portion of the material coming through her letterbox in the past few months - with old negatives into quirky light fittings. 'The films are embedded with memories; turning them into lampshades gives them a new life,' she says. The surge in 'green' art may be linked to a growing eco-consciousness but Yip reckons it's also part of the creative process. 'It's about the knack of seeing something unique in resources that would otherwise be discarded.' Protect the Environment, Light Up the Earth lamp exhibition, Level 1 Atrium, New Town Grand Central Plaza, Sha Tin, until July 13. Display items are available for sale; proceeds go to the Hong Kong Red Cross in support of Sichuan earthquake relief.