Student Art Centered on Zero Waste

In an effort to spread environmental awareness and encourage artistic expression the annual Resource Recovery and Recycling Division’s 2012 Art of Recycling Sustainable Student Sculpture Contest was recently held. As part of the contest Santa Monica students are invited to create and submit sculptures made from materials which are usually recycled or thrown away. The goal was to get people thinking about zero waste, as the theme “Zero Waste—Imagine a Waste Free Santa Monica” clearly identified. By creating art from trash not only did the students find new uses for discarded items, but they also were forced to think about how much garbage they create and how they currently dispose of it compared to how they should manage it.

Students prepared for the competition by learning about the idea of zero waste first in the classroom. Zero waste is a concept that encourages the emulation of sustainable natural life cycles, or rather the notion to reuse and repurpose as much as possible. In nature discarded materials are designed to be resources for others and this is a key aspect of the philosophy. Trash may still be disposed of in landfills or incinerators under a zero waste model; however, the amounts are minimal. The main objectives are to not burn or bury garbage whenever possible. Repurposing so-called trash, recycling, composting, or just finding someone who has a use for items that you do not need are all great examples of embodying the zero waste lifestyle. After some formal classroom training it was time for the students to put their lessons and imaginations to use and create art made from items that usually block the way to a zero waste existence.

Reusable Grocery Bags Pivotal to Success of Zero Waste Living

Plastic shopping bags are a huge deterrent to a zero waste model. The bags can be recycled, but they seldom are so they float around as litter or are buried in landfills where not only do they not breakdown, they may actually prevent biodegradable materials from breaking down as quickly and efficiently as they should. Reusable shopping bags made with recycled material fit in perfectly in the zero waste model – and not just because they can be used again and again. Most reusable bags are constructed from recycled materials, like plastic water bottles. Finding an alternate use for plastics, whether bags or bottles keep these items out of landfills or puts an end to the never ending cycle of recycling these materials. To be clear, recycling is great and is always to be strongly encouraged – the problem with recycling plastic bags and plastic bottles is that recycling these products leads to the creation of new plastic bags and bottles which in turn encourages people to continue to use these items. We need to stop the disposable plastic cycle and find long term uses for plastics. Reusable grocery bags constructed from plastic bottles create a long term use and application for these materials and prevent them from ending up in your local landfill or stuck in a tree in your backyard. An added bonus is that when a reusable bag made from recycled plastics has given all it has to give and just cannot cut it anymore you can recycle it, so it can come back as a new reusable bag ready to deliver more service.

Thoughtful Art Exhibit Showcases Lessons Learned

More than 200 students submitted entries to the Sustainable Student Sculpture Contest and several pieces were chosen to receive special honors based on their interpretation of the theme. The student’s art was thoughtful and creative and gave a purpose to items that were previously considered trash. The art also gave cause for the students and viewers to think about the amount of trash they create in their lives and how it is managed and disposed of. The artwork served as a visual of the amount of trash that is generated – when trash is hauled off to a landfill it can be easy to forget or just not think about how much waste we can turn out. Viewing art constructed from trash forces people to think about how our garbage is handled and the impact this can have on the environment. This project was a great way to cap off the school year and teach the students hands on lessons about trash and resource management, as well as unique problem solving and creative skills.

Learn more about the Santa Monica Sustainable Student Art Sculpture Contest at

One thought on “Student Art Centered on Zero Waste

  1. Shane@EnviroBooty

    Kids are our future! And it is funny how things go full circle. My grand parents realized the benefit of reusing and not being wasteful. Now it has a catchy name and it is trendy! Whatever works.


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