Move Over, da Vinci

When Michelangelo sculpted David, he probably never thought to use chicken wire, candy wrappers, ice cream cartons or broom bristles. However, Kate Burns, a Maryland high school student did in order to win the Maryland Department of the Environment's (MDE) Rethink Recycling Sculpture Contest.

The contest was held this past November to celebrate America Recycles Day, a national event that promotes recycling, source reduction and reuse. Baltimore-based MDE first approached several high schools in central Maryland to gauge interest in the Rethink Recycling Contest and to find out whether the sculpture projects could be incorporated into schools' curricula.

Teachers were interested, and 31 students at seven high schools soon were creating works from reused or recycled materials. Most students used items found at home or school, such as car parts, plastic bottles, thread, plywood, newspapers, aluminum foil, computer parts and even an old commode.

“This was a good opportunity to engage young people in recycling and elevate their level of education about why it's important to recycle,” says Regina Rochez, program manager for the planning, recycling and outreach program for MDE.

With a few months to work on their projects, students designed varied and creative sculptures, including several trees, a dragon, a suit made out of newspaper and free-form creations.

On the day of the contest, judges scored contestants based on creativity, the best use of recycled materials and overall appearance. For participating, each school was given a personalized plaque made from recycled glass, and students were given portable compact disc players. Grand prizes included a digital camera and $500.

To find sponsors for the event, Rochez contacted businesses that she had worked with during MDE electronic recycling programs or other projects. Each company hosted the event and paid for the prizes students were awarded. A few of the sponsors included Waste Management Inc., Houston; Best Buy, Minneapolis; Panasonic, Secaucus, N.J.; Sharp, Mahwah, N.J.; and the American Plastics Council, Arlington, Va.

In the future, MDE will invite schools from across the state to participate, with the hope of giving more students a better understanding of the importance of recycling, according to Rochez.

“Our youth are the key to protecting our environment for the future and … through education can we achieve that goal,” she says.