Upcycled: Art and science students find creative uses for waste

April 10, 2018

What can you make from materials otherwise destined for the landfill? Sustainable Schools new waste prevention workshop, Upcycled, allows middle and high schools students in Whatcom County to creatively explore waste diversion by reusing discarded materials in a project. “Reusing” is one of the 4 R’s of waste prevention: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.

The average American produces 4.5 pounds of waste per day. Before the creative process can begin, students learn the fate of Whatcom County’s waste – two landfills near the Columbia River, about 400 miles away – and the impacts landfills have on the environment and on communities. Once an item is thrown into a landfill, it gets buried, and the lack of oxygen chokes out the decomposition process and produces methane gas. Students try to guess the amount of time it takes for certain items to break down completely once buried in a landfill. Aluminum can? 200-400 years. Plastic jug? 1 million years to forever.
After participating in the Upcycled workshop, Shuksan Middle School, 6th & 7th grade art students will create projects made from textiles and used bike tubes. Roughly 3.8 billion pounds of textiles are added to landfills in America every year and using fabrics in art pieces is one way to reduce this number. Students brainstorm other ideas such as having a clothing swap or donating any textiles they don’t want anymore to thrift stores.

Lynden Christian High School students are researching artists of the world who implement discarded materials in art pieces to inspire their own creation made from items found around their homes.  Artists make anything from garden trinkets, to sculptures made from plastics found on beaches, to art installations in neighborhoods.

Environmental science students and art students at Options High School are collaborating on the creation of upcycled projects. Each art student will make masks with found objects, and the science students will research an issue of their choosing related to waste. Once the research is completed, classes will work together to make a sculpture that teaches people about the issue.
Plastics have contaminated just about everywhere in the environment, especially in our oceans. Students learn about the five main ocean gyres – large-scale currents where plastics collect, some the size of Texas. China is no longer accepting our plastics, rapidly filling up recycling centers until they are finally shipped to landfills instead. Students brainstorm ways we can reduce the amount of plastic we use and suggest reusing and recycling. What projects can we create from used plastic?
Upcycled is one of four waste prevention workshops offered to middle and high school students in Whatcom County by Sustainable Schools. Check out the website for more information.
By Sasha Savoian, Education Specialist