I'm embarrassed to admit that my classroom recycling initiative is fairly new. I should have started this looooong ago. After our Earth Day-themed art show last year, I was slapped right in the face with staggering statistics that I could no longer ignore. To watch my high school students work diligently on persuasive projects urging the public to take a stand for the environment really put a pep in my step. Although I'm not much older than my students at only 29 years old, I owe it to them and all future generations to do my part. I hope this post will help inspire, encourage, or supplement your own classroom recycling initiative.
First, let's talk paper because this is the achilles heal of art classroom consumption:
- I order 5 reams of 9x12 all-purpose drawing paper every school year, each with 500 sheets.
- I order 3 reams of 18x24 all-purpose drawing paper every school year, each with 5oo sheets.
- I order 1 ream of watercolor paper with 500 sheets.
- We use about 10 reams of copy paper for learning activities, practice drawings, graphic organizers, notes, etc., each with 500 sheets. That's a whopping 9,500 sheets of paper, and I haven't even addressed the 24x36 sheets or the tinted pastel/charcoal paper...MY CLASS ALONE TAKES UP 2/3 OF A TREE JUST ON COPY PAPER.
Can you imagine how many trees are used up for the entire school??
As for plastic and metal, this is where the help of my students really comes in. Most of the items in these two recycle bins are soda bottles or cans. I'd estimate that about a third of the students who come in my classroom daily have a plastic bottle with them. That's 30 bottles that come through my room on a daily basis! Recycling only 1 plastic bottle saves enough energy to power one 60w light bulb for 6 hours. I'd also be willing to bet that this many bottles and caps could be used for some amazing art projects! I have an idea or two listed below in Tip #5.
In order to help you get started on recycling or add to your existing initiative, I have compiled a list of 5 tips that helped me:
Tip 1: Setup a student-led recycling committee.
As a teacher, all I need is one more thing to do (insert sarcasm). Although being busy isn't a sufficient excuse, this is part of the reason why it has taken me so long to start a recycling system in my art classroom. I have so many passionate and willing students in each of my classes. Have these kiddos setup your recycling bins, collect materials from other classrooms, hang call-to-action posters around the school, etc. They also can help remind students what can and cannot go in each recycling bin, such as "wet media" paper.
Tip 2: Make it fun and easy for everyone.
At the high school where I teach, students are required to have a certain number of community service hours before graduation. If you have a similar program at your school, ask administration about setting up some recycling opportunities for willing participants in your classroom. In addition, throw an ice-cream party for the class that recycles the most material throughout the semester. Another idea is to have your student committee collect the recycling bins for other teachers. This will help get everyone on board without them feeling like they have been handed another job to do.
Tip 3: Convert painted paper (or soiled otherwise) into new, homemade paper.
As stated above, some types of paper should not be recycled. Shredded paper, wax paper, and painted paper are a few types that I have within my art classroom. Shredding, waxing, and adding wet-media to paper compromises the fibers in some way or another, compromising the recycling process. Instead, convert all of these materials into homemade paper. You can add flower petals for an extra touch of beauty!
Tip 4: Convert to Glass.
Glass is the holy grail of sustainability because it can be recycled over and over again without ever losing quality or purity. I have converted several plastic items in my art classroom to glass ones. One conversion that has made a HUGE difference in consumption is using the Oui yogurt cups for rinse water or paint. These little glass cups hold about 5 oz of water, so they are fairly compact and easy to wash or move!
Tip 5: Be Creative
This is a fun one-especially for us art teachers! Here are some ideas of creative recycling you can implement in your art classroom!
[coffee jugs for storage]
[ plastic bottle lids]
[ Tin-foil to scrub]
[Old dishes for mosaic tiles]
[Mason jar of reusable wipes]
[Egg cartons/cupcake holders for paint]
Aquaponics is a water-dependent, sustainable system for growing plants without garden soil. In the tank, fish secretions are cycled through the planting reservoir, fertilizing root systems on the way. Additionally, plant nutrients are cycled down into the tank and provide the fish with much needed vitamins and minerals (We have some really beautiful koi fish at the moment)! So...how can an art class make use of such a project? When a few students ask me if they could lead this project, I ask myself the same question. However, the more I brainstormed, the more I realized how much, and with how little, we could do! What I love so much about this project is that it's so environmentally friendly!
Some exciting projects we look forward to completing in the next year:
- DIY plant-based paint pigments and dyes
- Mixed media projects using petals, stems, and leaves
- Art therapy activities outside in the sunshine
Stay tuned for our future aquaponics art projects!
Cleaning paintbrushes...I'm getting flustered just thinking about it. Crusty, hardened paintbrushes tease me in my nightmares! Brush maintenance alone can make or break the endeavors of any art classroom. I remember as a first year teacher (bless my heart) having to purchase new paintbrushes at Halloween because I was ignorant to classroom rules and rituals involving paintbrush cleaning! Thankfully, I found a rhythm around my 3rd year teaching and setup a brush-cleaning station with easy, straightforward steps. Since, the amount of ruined brushes has steadily decreased, and I'm a happy camper!
Now, since the basics are taken care of, I can focus more on the products we use for the process. Although I have never used thinners or harsh brush cleaners in my classroom, I thought why not take it a step further and use completely natural (and cheap, I might add) ingredients to get the job done? Let's get to it!
For water-based paint:
1. Add about 1 oz of castile soap for every three cups of water to you cleaning container (if you want scented soap, choose plant/essential oil based products). Our container has a wire screen at the bottom to help remove residue from brushes. Just gently swirl the paintbrush around the bottom of the container against the screen for about 15-25 seconds, depending on the condition of the brush.
Let's talk money:
- Standard acrylic brush cleaner: $1.33 Fl/Oz.
- Castile Soap: $0.39 Fl/Oz
Total Savings: $0.94 Fl/Oz
2. Our next container is a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. Vinegar has just enough acid in it to eat away any remaining residue leftover after the soap cleanse.
3. The final container is water only. This container also contains a mesh screen. Again, gently swirl the paintbrush across the bottom of the container for about 15 seconds to remove any remaining vinegar.
** If paintbrush is in general good condition, you are finished! If paintbrush needs a little extra TLC, proceed to step 4 below.**
4. Finally, let's condition! This is my favorite part :) Mix 3 tablespoons of coconut oil with 2-3 drops of your favorite essential oil. During the mixing process, your coconut oil may soften. Don't worry! It should harden over night and be ready to use! Give your clean paintbrush a gently swirl in both directions, and let sit over night! This keeps bristles conditioned and in place. To remove oil before painting, complete a simple wash with castile soap and water (no vinegar is needed). Some folks swear by olive oil for a DIY paintbrush conditioner as well, but keep in mind, olive oil goes rancid fairly quickly and will not be pleasant.
Let's talk Money:
- Standard paintbrush conditioner: $3.40 / Oz
- Coconut oil: $0.43 / Oz
Total Savings: $2.97 / Oz
1. Coconut oil, olive oil, or peanut butter (yes, you read that correctly), can remove oil paint from brushes. Turpentine or paint thinner ARE TOXIC. Period. There is no reason to use either! Give your dirty brush several gentle swirls in a natural oil of your choice, then wipe clean on cloth. Repeat this process until most of the oily residue has been removed. Then, you can complete the same steps for water-based paintbrushes from here!
** As tempting as it is, avoid cleaning/swirling dirty paintbrushes on the palm of your hand while washing them. Paint pigment does not belong on our largest organ!