For my Genius Hour Project I chose to apply practices of sustainability to my classroom. In previous years I worked with students to reduce fabric waste. However, this year I took a much more targeted approach to divert waste from landfills and ensure there are systems in place for items to be repurposed and recycled.

Attached is a link to my video to share my classroom, along with the initiatives we are doing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NJrkDhV7h4

The video above is a glimpse of some of the systems and projects my classes are currently working on. Depending on the school division/school, in Manitoba Textile Arts and Design is offered for students ranging from grades 5 – 12. Where I am employed, in a typical year I teach grade 7 – 12 Textile Arts to students from several different school. I try to focus on creating opportunities for students to design and create items of interest to them, while building skills needed to be successful with their projects.

The Zero Waste Wall was an initiative I shared during one of our classes Zoom call and jumped at the encouragement to explore this idea further as part of my Genius Hour Project. It is a very simple concept that has become very effective in practice.

I created a bulletin board posing the question “Can We Have a Zero Waste Classroom?”, with organized labelled bins tacked beneath for students to organize waste that could be repurposed. Originally, I was inspired by my sister-in-law, a grade 2 teacher who requested I keep empty thread spools for her classes project about wheels. I then began thinking what other items could be repurposed that we often throw away without thinking. One negative about this system is that it does not avoid waste entirely. Items used and then donated to day cares or early years programming may eventually be thrown out, but at least it does extend the life of a single use item. Benefits is that students are more coconscious about items they discard, there is more opportunity for recycling and repurposing, and it does eliminate some of our daily classroom waste.

Since starting in my position 3 years ago I have always collected and saved fabric scraps. This is the first year I had intentionally organized them and created a system. Each of the large tables have fabric scrap collection bins, from there scraps are organized into three ways:

  1. Usable scraps are sorted by type and organized for students to use again.
  2. Scraps in good condition but that are too small to sew with are used for dog bed stuffing. All completed dog beds are donated to a local animal rescue.
  3. Scraps that aren’t usable or in good condition are added to the textile recycling bin which I eventually plan to drop off at a local textile recycling collection site. You can even use this link https://declutter.diabetes.ca/donation-bin to find a Textile Recycling Bin near you! They accept “Everything! Clothing, shoes, towels, sheets, including those that are worn out, full of holes, stains, grease, etc. Please make sure items are dry and/or bagged.” (Green Action Centre, 2018)

Another textile item I have collected since starting at my job is gently used clothing. With the exception of COVID, each year I host multiple clothing swaps in my classroom. They are a school wide event where students can come and take free clothing. I try to organize the event to be as inclusive as possible, organizing clothes by type and not gender. Additionally, there are no barriers to entry (no costs, no rules), just an opportunity for students to find new to them clothing. These events have become extremely popular with the student body and have become well known to staff that my classroom is the new place to drop of any clothing donations.

If you are interested in hosting a clothing swap for students here are some of my top tips:

  • Share with friends, family, and colleagues that you are planning this event a month or two prior and send out reminders the weeks coming up. I found the primary source of donations come from close contacts.
  • Reduce barriers for students to attend! I actively worked to make this event a stigma free/inclusive event. There is no cost of entry, everything is free, clothing is organized by type not gender. If students aren’t sure if an item fits, I remind them they can take it home and try it on and if it doesn’t work for them, they can further donate it.
  • Make it fun! When I host clothing swaps my classroom is transformed into a store. Clothing is neatly folded on tables, we make DIY displays of accessories and shoes, and hang up garments up on a rack. We blast music and make it as close to a real shopping experience as possible.
  • Provide bags for students. Attending clothing swaps may be one of the few opportunities’ students get to shop in such an accessible way. Some students may prefer discretion when shopping.
  • Involve your students! I have students make posters, organize clothing, and set up the swap. My students love sorting through the clothing (I let them pick one piece in advance for helping and make them come back and shop for anything else like the rest of the school). I do recommend providing rubber gloves, I have had the odd icky donation and some kids just prefer to wear them.

Lastly in my video I highlighted the Plant and Craft Sale my class will be doing this spring. This is part of a project-based learning initiative to have elective courses focus on specific content area. Students will be crafting items to sell in an upcoming student planned event. I chose to incorporate plants for several reasons. I wanted to eliminate pressure of the students in their crafting, to allow them to combine their projects with a live plant and promote biophilic design. Biophilic design is the act of incorporating nature into a design. I also thought that incorporating nature would allow for a wonderful learning opportunity for my students who will be tending the plants the weeks leading up to the sale.

I am excited for what school and sustainability has the potential to look like past COVID. I find that with the new restrictions and policies many sustainable options have taken a backseat to single use products this past year.

If you are interested in integrating Zero Waste Practices and Waste Reduction at your school/classroom here are some additional resources to get you started on your journey!

Zero Waste At School (How to make my school or workplace zero waste) by The Simple Environmentalist

Podcast: Eight Simple Ways to Move Forward Toward a Zero Waste Classroom by Angela Watson

References

Dendler, E. [The Simple Environmentalist]. (2020, October 4). ZERO WASTE AT SCHOOL (how to make my school or workplace zero waste) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyPzX09h7ZU.

Prokopanko, T. (2018, February 5). How To Recycle Your Clothes. Green Action Centre. https://greenactioncentre.ca/reduce-your-waste/how-to-recycle-your-clothes/.

Watson, A. [Angela Watson]. (2020, February 16). EP187 Eight simple ways to move forward toward a zero waste classroom (with Heidi Rose). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPh17W-56Wo.

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