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Recycling Activities
Turn Trash Into Treasure


In an effort to promote earth-friendly attitudes, teachers are turning local trash to teaching treasure in very different ways.

The animal inspired team created a skirt of Styrofoam covered with "feathers" made from floral shelf paper, a trash bag top, and shoes of corrugated cardboard. Photos provided by Sheila Piazza.

"I was amazed that paper cans for mixed nuts could be cut into four sections and incorporated into a fabulous futuristic wedding dress, and that mesh potato bags could be fashioned into hose for a Junkyard Fairy," Sheila Piazza recalls. "I also was impressed by my students' interpretation of the theme. For example, the sport suit group took the stance of a sports fan and used chip bags for sleeves because everyone likes to eat chips while watching sports;" they made rest of the jacket with baseball cards connected with zip ties."

A seventh and eighth grade art teacher, Piazza annually asks her students at Delta Middle School, in Muncie, Indiana, to design what she calls "Trashin Fashion." The kids, working in teams of three, draw a general topic or theme for their garments. Past themes include Robotic Prom Wear, Sport Suit, Animal Inspired Wear, East Meets West, Futuristic Wedding Dress, Underwater Wear, (K)Night Wear, and more.

"Ive been doing a recycled project for about six years with the advanced art class. The projects varied from an easy chair -- with everything you need except a potty -- to a life-sized animal covered with recycled objects ala Leo Sewell," Piazza told Education World. "About three years ago, one of my students came to show me a bag that a parent had made from drink pouches. That gave me the idea to use recycled objects for clothing."


Piazza's classes have participated in the Trashin Fashion project the last two years, and it has gotten even better over time. Work begins with online research to examine fashion trends through the ages and how garments are constructed. Each team member creates a design that relates to the team's theme, and parts from each of these individual designs are incorporated into a final plan. The garments must be comprised of at least 80 percent recycled materials and be able to be worn by a volunteer model/teacher. With the designs prepared, the next step is a trip to the local recycling center, where materials range from cans, lids, and bottles to plastic pieces and foam.

A teacher-turned-model poses with the "Trashin Fashion" project's "east meets west" team.

"The announcement of the trip to the recycling center is certainly met with mixed reviews," observes Piazza. "I even had one student who refused to go to the dump to get her supplies and informed me that she would only be using new materials. However, once we arrive and the students see the amount of materials there, they begin to see the possibilities."

This is the "aha" teaching moment that Piazza lives for. She loves when her students bring materials to her to gush over how "cool" the items are and to describe how they plan to use the recyclables in their designs. Most students return to the center on their own to find materials for other projects.

Because the assignment is a competition, the design work is top secret. Students make cubicles out of display boards and construct their garments with duct tape, Velcro, zip ties, needles and thread, and a sewing machine.

"The final products are then unveiled in front of the school at the year-end talent show," Piazza reports. "Teachers model the garments with the young designers at their side. Following plans by the students, the models' hair and makeup are done by local student beauticians to complement the garments."

Students also select the music for their model's entry and don their own designer looks for their stroll down the catwalk. The entire student body enjoys the show. Judges from the recycling center and makeup artists determine the best designs, and awards, which are also made from items found at the center, are given.

The robotic prom dress features Styrofoam sheets decorated with glitter and nut can rings, cup sleeves, a bodice of plastic bag, and jewelry from a disassembled telephone with a pie pan crown.

"The students are required to use tremendous amounts of problem solving and teamwork," adds Piazza. "They have to plan their time and materials. Often one disaster leads to a novel way of getting it done."


"Our club motto is nos cuidamos, which means 'we take care of each other,'" explains Gerry Wass. "That's how we run our program and our club, how we treat our customers, and how we want to treat our planet."

The Spanish club at Purdy (Missouri) High School wanted to have a community service mission, and the students didn't want to do fundraising. Wass, a foreign languages teacher and the advisor of the club, explains that this gave rise to a unique and "green" idea -- a student-run recycling center located on school grounds.

"Students work in the building two hours per day, mostly handling materials from the school," reports Wass. "We are open to the community one Saturday per month but plan to change that soon to two Saturdays. We encourage community members to come into our building to learn how to sort materials."

The center is a thriving business. Most of its profits go into the center itself, but the project also funds activities for the Spanish club and scholarships for graduating seniors. More importantly, the project meets a need for the community. An interesting aspect of the center is its Clean Burn furnace that recycles used motor oil to generate heat. The furnace makes positive use of the oil left in filters from industrial clients and school buses.

What bride wouldn't desire this futuristic wedding dress made of nut cans, hangers, and plastic, with a bodice of juice pouches, a hat of hangers and plastic, and a veil of soda can tabs?

The road hasn't always been smooth for Wass and the center, but the work is rewarding. When, in the middle of last year, the center shipped an entire load of recyclables for nothing, Wass told the students that he would not ask them to continue if they could not be paid. Club members unanimously voted to keep the project going, whether or not it was profitable.

Wass has been pleased with how much of the project is completely handled by the students. He has received so much interest in the center and its operations that he created Bringing It Back Around, a book that shares the little details that make the program such a success, as a model to help other schools establish similar programs. The book can be purchased through the Purdy Recycling Project Web site.

"We plan to continue growing and innovating with regard to how we collect and process materials, as well as spreading our knowledge to the wider world," shared Wass.


"Of all of the recycling projects, Trashin’ Fashion is my favorite," says Sheila Piazza. "It is truly a something from nothing kind of project that brings forth some great leadership and problem solving skills. It’s wonderful to see the pride students take in the finished garments."
Piazza has a few pieces of advice for those who would venture into the world of recycled fashion.
* Be sure to clear plenty of space to work and store materials. Piazza uses a large furniture box to hold each team's materials.
* Because plans often change as students work, maintain a box of discarded materials. One group's castaway often becomes another group's salvation, and it makes re-recycling unused materials a snap.
* It’s essential to hold at least three fittings with the models to achieve an acceptable fit.