In this day and age, recycling is vital to keeping our planet green. Luckily, it has never been easier to find ways to recycle in the classroom. The possibilities are endless! Here are a few simple and useful recycling ideas that can be done in any art classroom. Many of these will even help you save money by cutting down on the amount of new materials you will need to buy going forward.
Crayons take up so much space in landfills, but are actually very easy to recycle. When your crayons start to become really small, rather than throwing them out, make new crayons! This can be accomplished by melting down the small crayon pieces in oven safe molds (make sure you remove the wrappers first!) and then letting them cool, using a Crayola Crayon Maker, or by sending them to an organization who will do this for you. This includes The National Crayon Recycle Program and The Crayon Initiative who donates the crayons to hospitals.
Make watercolors out of old markers
This is a simple trick that many art teachers have started to take advantage of to get the most use out of their markers. When your markers dry out, all you have to do is place them in a container with distilled water. Over the course of a few days, the remaining ink from the markers will seep into the water. You can play around with the water to marker ratio, and when the paint is a color that you like, remove the markers and add a cap full of 91% Isopropyl Alcohol so that the paint doesn’t grow mold. Now you have liquid watercolor paints!
Andrew Kiczek, better known by his Instagram handle @elementaryarts, is a big fan of this trick and has more information about it on his page.
Cover tables in newspaper
Ask your students to bring in old newspapers from home and use these to cover tables when you’re working on a particularly messing project. Many families have newspapers laying around at home that would otherwise just get thrown out, so they’ll be happy to send it to school with the kids. And this way you can cover your tables without worrying about having to clean off reusable mats or feel bad for using a single-use disposable mat. You could even let your classes compete to see who can bring in the most throughout the year and offer some type of reward.
Use egg cartons to hold paint
Similar to the newspaper, you can ask your students to bring in empty egg cartons. These work great for holding acrylic paint when you want to give each student or each table a small portion of each color. They can also be cut up if you only want to give a few colors to each table. Again this saves you the hassle of cleaning paint palettes or containers but is not adding waste to our landfills. Since not every town recycles all types of egg cartons, bonus points if you find out which egg cartons aren’t accepted by your local recycling, and specifically ask for those!
Another use for egg cartons, make egg carton animals like Nylah Khan does with her classes. CLICK to see the lesson plan
Make art out of recycled materials!
Make recycling fun by creating cool sculptures out of recycled materials. You can make these pieces just for the sake of making them or to make a statement about the environment. Some of our favorites we’ve seen are this Chihuly inspired chandelier made out of water bottles by Elizabeth McLeod and her students and this milk jug igloo featured on HubPages.
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Beyond these ideas, there are so many other classroom supplies that can be saved and used for other purposes and objects from home that students can bring in to give a new life. Next time you find yourself in need of a common classroom object, think about what else could be used to fulfill its role. And even objects that don’t seem particularly useful can always find their way into an art project!
And check out our lesson plans to find some great ones that use recycled materials!