Washing plastic takes a very long time. Time is can be a challenge because the students did not have enough time to wash all of the plastic. As the art club teacher, I have been spending every afternoon washing rinsing and drying plastic. My art studio is small and I still must teach my classes and storage and drying space is limited.
My process includes using soapy water in the first container, and follow with two rinse containers and an area prepared for air drying. If I had access to my studio during the weekend I would have used that time to wash and dry, but I did not. This is a very tedious and time consuming process.
Any suggestions for non-toxic cleaning products would be welcomed.
As mentioned before, each classroom was supplied with a bag to capture only plastic waste for one day and a place was designated for plastic disposal in the cafeteria. Teacher assistants would gather plastic at the tables for the younger children. Older art club students explained to fellow students why were collecting plastic and encouraged the students to help.
Before students arrived I collected and placed all the bags in a pile in the front of our art studio. I prepared washing stations for the plastic in 6 large 20 gallon storage bins with soapy water rinsing water and a drying station.
The art club was surprised upon their arrival to the art studio which now had a heaping mound of green plastic bags filled with plastic. We settled into our room. Many responded with,"Wow Miss what is that ? Plastic? It is so much more than I thought."
I asked them, "How much plastic do you think is here?" Many referred back to their previous guesses.
Next we watched artist Aurora Robson's "Trash+Love: Aurora Robson at TEDxPeachtree". Robson (2013) discusses her experiences with reoccurring nightmares about trash consuming her and she used these fears as inspiration in her artwork. She has used discarded plastic to create beautiful artwork and using this as a means to educate others about plastic pollution. The students were very impressed with her artwork. They immediately wanted to create some thing large. We talked about her nightmares of garbage and plastic and her cleaning process.
It was time to think about our own cleaning process because it was obvious that some of the students had not been very tidy before discarding the plastic. The students then assigned each other jobs such as: weighing, sorting, washing, rinsing and drying.
The students borrowed a spring scale from the science lab and began weighing the bags and recording the results. After the bags were weighed the plastic was sorted into like items and then sent to washing stations.
The reactions to this process were standard among the students:
“ Miss, I will never forget this day for all my life”
“ We have thousands of years for this trash.”
“ This is so disturbing!” “And Gross”
At the end of the meeting we cleaned up the stations, organized the plastic and discussed our findings.
The waste weighed was 48 pounds. We estimate that we actually collected over 50 pounds as we received more plastic after the measurement. I asked students to go home and think about what we could do with the plastic?
Today I went to each classroom and gave each teacher a green bag to distinguish our plastic from other trash.
I arrived at school early in order to make sure and get everything set upon the cafeteria before students started eating breakfast. I could not set up prior to that due to after school programs on campus. I created a large sign with green paint and glitter to help draw attention to the plastic collection area.
The students were instructed to clean off as much food as possible then place only plastic in the green bags.
I a perfect world there would not have been peanut butter on the menu.
Before beginning the process of collecting plastic, I felt it necessary to speak to the faculty and custodial staff. I was graciously given time at previously scheduled staff meeting. I informed the staff that the art club would be conducting research concerning our consumption of plastic on campus and how much plastic we discard in one day. I told the teachers that myself or art club students would deliver a green bag to each classroom and at the end of the day either myself or a student would pick it up and deliver it to the art studio. They were intrigued by what we were doing, but all were ready to go home, therefore I did not get any questions.
Next I explained our collection process, to the custodial staff. I wanted them to be assured that no extra work would fall on them. The custodial manager was very relieved. Next on my list was our cafeteria custodian and teacher assistants assigned to the cafeteria. As I am never in the cafeteria, I do not know the routines in place for meal times. It was absolutely vital that I speak with the people this could affect. Together we put in place a plastic disposal area and a plan to assist with the lower grades.
With a plan in place and agreement from the faculty and staff, I felt we were on our way.
(Art work provided by an art club student, 2016)
Throughout the day art students asked me several times if we were going to meet this afternoon. I assured them we would and they were very excited. They wanted to know what we were going to do and I would tell them, "It's a surprise." As soon as the bell rang they started filtering in the studio. I had one question written on the board. "What is plastic and what do we know about it?"
Immediately students began to describe it.
"Plastic is soft and flexible."
"We can see through it."
Okay, so now we know what it looks like. "How do we use it?"
"We use it everyday."
"Yes, we use lots of water bottles."
"You can use it for many things."
So we established that we know what it looks like and we use it a lot. What happens when we are finished a wrapper or bottle? What if the plastic did not get recycled or thrown in the trash, how long would the plastic last? How is it made anyway?
The students could not answer all these questions. These children have grown up in a plastic covered world.
In order to answer some questions we watched Diana Cohen's Ted Talk: The Tough Truths About Plastic . Cohen (2010), discusses the plastic pollution that is occurring in the oceans at alarming rate. She explains that the pollution in the oceans is mostly generated from inland sources carried through streams and rivers into the ocean and it is destroying our wildlife and polluting the water.
The reaction to the video was evident. The students expressed that they had no idea that animals were dying and getting hurt because of the plastic. The pictures of plastic in the water disgusted them.
As a study of how much plastic surrounds us, the students looked through their back packs found all the plastic they could. Those without a backpack found items around the room. With a variety of materials provided, they drew their collections.
After they completed their drawings I shared with them the plan!
"We are going to collect in one day all the plastic that we use on campus. Not just us, but the entire campus. Then after collect it we will make art with it. How much plastic do you predict we will collect?"
After some thought I received the following answers:
3600 lbs, 23 lbs, 1,000,000,000 lbs., 4000 lbs
300lbs, 1- 10 lbs.,4000 lbs.,20 lbs., 52 lbs, 152 lbs., 360 lbs., 4 lbs.
Then as a reflection I asked:
"What is something new that you learned today about plastic?"
"It hurts animals."
"Plastic is made from petroleum."
"I learned that plastic is bad for animals and the whole ocean."
"We use it a lot and some people throw it in the trash sometimes, they throw it on the beaches and the animals eat it and they die."
"The animals eat it."
"We learned it can hurt you and animals."
"It’s all over us and the world."
"We use it a lot."
"You can make art with plastic and other stuff."
"It is made out of gas."
"I learned that plastic is recyclable."
The stage has been set. In the first day students have already started their quest to know more and create art.