Green Is The New Black: How Recyclable Materials Can Transform Art

If the Department of Energy was the fashion industry, green would be the new black.

Living in Portland, Oregon, I cannot tell you how many times the topic of "Going Green" comes up in daily conversations, news stories, and business ventures. We have environmentally conscious bamboo clothing, LEED certified high-rises, recyclable take out containers, recirculating public fountains, compostable packing popcorn- the list is endless. Suffice to say it's fashionable to be "green".

Integrating the use of recyclable materials into your classroom art projects is not just environmentally savvy, it's smart, and what's more, it's cheap. As such, teachers and school systems at large can benefit greatly from jumping on the green bandwagon...

When I started Accidental Art Project, I asked fellow teachers and parents what their biggest barriers were to doing art with their students and children. Without fail, the #1 answer was budget cuts. Lack of artistic training or confidence in the visual arts came in at a steady #2. Fortunately, you don't need to have a fancy private school budget or an MFA to lead creative art projects. You just need to go a little greener with your art projects.

How do you do this?

Start by recognizing that your most creative and lucrative resource for obtaining art materials is right here in your own home, backyard, nearby forest, and local recycling center. Focus on using recyclable materials and found objects from nature as your art materials, rather than hitting up your local art store every time you're on the hunt for new materials. 

Here are 5 Basic Steps for Going Green with your art materials:

Step 1. Take a look at the many items you personally recycle and consider which materials among them can be repurposed. As a quick reference guide, soda cans, take out boxes, coffee sleeves, juice cartons, toilet paper and paper towel rolls, magazines, newspaper, paper grocery bags, cereal boxes, and coffee cans are all great starting points. 

Step 2. Initiate a classroom-wide Recycling Initiative. Divide your class into groups of 4-6 students and have each group research a different type of recyclable material, then create a group presentation on their material i.e. plastics.

Step 3. Get your students pumped up about the idea of bringing in their recyclable materials from home by designating a corner of your room as the Recycling Station. Place 5 large boxes at your Recycling Station and label them as follows: plastics, glass, paper/cardboard, cans (metals), and naturally found objects. Let your students know they can pack the Naturally Found Objects box with sticks, acorns, rocks, pods, pinecones, and other cool materials from nature.

Step 4. Review the best procedures for properly cleaning plastics and cans. Hot water and soap are a must when it comes to keeping your non-paper recyclable materials clean. (Reference the Waste Management link below for more information on this topic.)

Step 5: Download my Go Green 5-Pack to receive five creative, unconventional art lessons that focus on using recycled materials and naturally found objects.

Finally, consider how you as an educator and/or parent can spread the word about recycling. One of the cool things about making art out of recyclable materials was that once the project had been displayed and appreciated for a period of time, my students know that it's final destination isn't the trash bin—it's the recycling station! Instead of throwing their art away, they take it apart piece by piece and actively participate in the full circle process of reusing and recycling.

For more information on the topic of recycling at school, check out the Gilfus Education Group's article, 50 Ways To Go Green In The Classroom and find out what materials are recyclable from Waste Management.com.