OAKLAND -- You name it and Roberto Costa has probably turned it into a mosaic: his kitchen sink, his garage floor, a community garden display. He even helped mosaic every wall of a public restroom.

But the one initiative that has taken on a life of its own is the transformation of Oakland's public trash bins into colorful works of art.

What began two years ago as a beautification project in Costa's neighborhood, the Allendale Park section of East Oakland, has spread from High Street and 35th Avenue to Seminary Avenue, Foothill Boulevard, Grand Avenue and Telegraph Avenue.

By the city's count, 63 public trash bins have become mosaic pallets with the help of volunteer artists like Costa and Daud Abdullah and more than $1,100 in grants from the nonprofit Keep Oakland Beautiful.

More mosaic trash cans are in the works for Oakland's Laurel district and the city of Richmond.

"I love those trash cans," said Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, who has handed out "Local Hero" awards to several of the volunteer artists. Her favorite trash can design, a peace sign made out of daisies, adorns her district newsletter. "To me they're like flowers growing around High Street," she said.

Costa, an amateur artist and full-time analyst for the city of Oakland's Rent Adjustment Program, decided to bring decorative trash bins to Oakland after seeing them in Arcata.

His neighborhood's beautification committee, which includes several mosaic artists, had built mosaic planters, but several were tagged or accidentally struck by cars.

Garbage cans are a lot sturdier, Costa said.

Originally the artists planned to do just one design, but more volunteers came on board with their own vision for the garbage bins of Allendale Park.

"It was a great community organizing tool," said Beverly Shalom, a social worker who helped design several bins. "We deal with crime and blight, and some of us felt that instead of only focusing on the negative, we would focus on something positive that would make people care more about their neighborhood."

From Allendale Park, the mosaic trash cans quickly spread to nearby Maxwell Park, where many of the same volunteers participated in a four-year community project to transform the local park's public restroom into a mosaic.

"When I saw what they were doing, I knew I had to figure out a way to do them too," said Daud Abdullah, an electrician and artist who helped out on the bathroom mosaic.

"I had done a lot of community cleanup projects," Abdullah said. "I liked the idea of making a trash can look so pretty that nobody could miss it."

Through Oakland's Adopt a Spot volunteer program, Abdullah has single-handedly decorated more mosaic trash bins than anyone in city -- mostly in deeper East Oakland, where he said public art was most needed.

"A lot of my cans have peace and love on them because that's what I'm trying to convey," he said.

Abdullah also takes requests.

When Latin musician Apolinar Andrade saw Abdullah getting ready to work on a trash bin near his home at High Street and Santa Rita Avenue, he asked for a music theme. Abdullah and fellow volunteer artist Karen Difrummolo came up with a guitar, maracas and a design that read "Oakland 'hearts' Musica."

"It makes me feel so good to see it every day," Andrade said.

While Abdullah branched out on his own, Costa has been working with neighborhood groups interested in decorating their bins. This year he taught residents in the Adams Point neighborhood to do the mosaics that have been popping up along Grand Avenue next to Lake Merritt.

"He was very inspiring and encouraging throughout the project," said Vivian Romero, who contacted Costa after seeing the decorated trash cans on High Street.

Costa said the goal of all his mosaic projects is to strengthen neighborhoods. "It's a community building effort," he said. "You get to know neighbors that you otherwise wouldn't know."

Volunteers say the decorated trash bins have mushroomed around town in part because Oakland is home to a lot of mosaic artists and the Institute of Mosaic Art in the Jingletown neighborhood. Several volunteers have taken classes at the institute or gotten supplies from it.

Abduallah says he often gets donated tiles. He applies the cement mortar, tile and grout onto a fiberglass mesh that he then affixes to the cement trash bin. Costa does his work directly on the bin, which he first grades to create an even surface. Each trash can takes about 20 hours to completely decorate.

And when it's over, the volunteers still have to keep an eye out for vandals.

Abdullah says it's easy to wash off spray paint from the mosaics on the base of the trash cans.

The city provides him paint to cover over graffiti on the top of the bins, although he'll often use his own. "The city gives me gray or brown paint," he said. "But I don't want them to blend in. I want them to stand out."

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.