Consumptions of exhaustible materials is a part of any art program but it has been my mission to champion reducing waste in the art room over the years. Below are some simple ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle in any art room.
1. Use cloth towels in lieu of paper towels to dry clean hands
As a way to cut down on cutting down trees, instead of using paper towels in the art room for drying our hands, we use cloth towels that are kept above the sinks. After taping the paper towel opening closed, the kids learned pretty quickly to use the towels to dry their clean hands. We use paper towels to blot brushes sometimes and even then, we dry them and reuse them three to four times before throwing them away.
2. Use cloth rags for cleaning tables, spills, and messes
The same principle as above, but here kids get to learn that messes can be cleaned up without using paper towels which can be transferred outside of the classroom. I typically wet the rags and have them on the table when we are painting or need to clean-up as we make art. At the end of the day I quickly hand wash the rags and hang them to dry.
3. Use old containers for paint mixing and storage
From yogurt containers to old paint bottles, reusing bottles is a resourceful and easy way to recycle. Because we mix a lot of paint in the art room, empty paint bottles with the tops cut off work great. I have also found some lids that can be used as covers.
4. Refill glue bottles and limit glue sticks
Empty glue sticks do not get recycled and just think of how many are used each year in one art room in one school. Instead, use refillable glue bottles or glue cups with brushes to help reduce plastic waste.
5. Use plastic trays for organizing materials
Supermarket meat trays make great trays for organizing materials. I use them so much that I have put a request out to parents and teachers to wash, save and send to the art room.
6. Use plexiglass palettes for tempera & poster paint and paper plates for acrylic paint
If we are using tempera paint in the art room, we use plexiglass palettes to put paint on then wash them when we are done. In turn reducing the waste of one-time use paper plates as painting palettes. If we are using polymer-based paint, we use paper plates, let them dry and reuse them several times before peeling off the thick plastic build up and use it for other art projects. This helps to reduce washing the plastic base paint down the drain and into the water.
7. Limit lamination
Let’s be honest, teachers love to laminate, myself included but if you think about when you laminate something it becomes plastic and the kind you can’t recycle. Limiting lamination to only what you need to last a long time will help reduce plastic waste.
8. Say no to glitter
I know, I know, glitter is great and we all love it but it is micro plastic and once it goes down the drain it goes into our water source. Use glitter sparingly and when cleaning up, avoid washing it down the drain.
9. Avoid simple use items
From throwaway plastics table clothes to make clean-up easier, to one use popsicle sticks, throwing it away doesn’t mean it goes away. It goes to a landfill and much of it can’t be recycled, so reducing single-use items can help decrease the amount of waste produced in the art room. Let things dry and re-use them again and again!
10. Use old items as art room tools
Old toothbrushes, caps, even sizers from canvases make great tools to use for creating textured papers. It is also a great way to reuse something and give it a new purpose, and it’s free!
We can all do our part to help reduce the amount of waste we make and if we model this in our art rooms we are teaching our students ways to be global citizens who are respectful and responsible stewards of the environment.
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I’ve saved a fortune by buying a hundred microfiber washcloths. When they’re all dirty it’s just one large washer load at the laundromat. The kids know to hang them on the drying racks to dry.