Garbage to Glam: Connecting the Dots

March 20, 2019

Recycling is going through a huge overhaul, due to declining markets and contamination of recyclable materials. It is projected that Millennials will be the largest consumer group in the next few years with a strong influence on the retail market. Therefore, this project Garbage to Glam: Connecting the Dots was designed to help 9-12th graders at First Colonial HS (FCHS), four other high schools and six middle schools to connect the dots between purchasing an item and disposing of that item in a landfill and ultimately to other alternatives.
The first steps happened only with FCHS. First, three class and the Green Team were given a 16 question survey as a pre-assessment. The goal was to gauge their current buying habits, their participation in recycling, their understanding of what could be recycled, and whether they understood the differences between reuse, re-purpose and recycling.

Second, we did an audit of two trash cans and one recycling bin. During this audit, the teens donned aprons and gloves and divided the contents of the bins into categories (see Trash Audit excel sheets in Google Drive folder). Afterwards, the data was graphed and analyzed (See Trash Audit Analysis sheet examples in Google Drive folder).

Along the way, students pulled items from the trash cans and recycling bins to be repurposed into outfits or accessories for the annual Lynnhaven Trashion Show, a fashion show held the last Saturday in February at Lynnhaven Mall with outfits created from items rescued from trash cans and recycling bins. The show is open to any Middle or High School student in Virginia Beach. To participate, students must design and fashion an outfit for a model, research facts about the materials they used (including how much of that material is currently being put in landfills), and write a short piece or blurb about their outfit that is read by the emcee. Two shows were held with a Trash Talk Trivia contest held between shows. Before each show, The Cleaning Crew, performed a skit which ultimately led to them to performing a percussion piece using trash cans. The shows goal was to raise awareness of the amount of trash ending up in landfills and creative ways to re-purpose garbage in to glamourous and fun outfits, some of which could easily be worn on the streets. Three judges, selected from the arts, environment and business communities determined the winners in two categories (Most Creative and Best Fashion & Design), while the audience voted for the Peoples Choice Award. The Principals Pride Award was also given out to one of the High Schools.

After the event, students at FCHS were given the survey again to see if there were any noticeable changes in their knowledge and habits (see the Pre and Post Assessment Results Charts in the Google Drive folder). As an outcome of the trash /recycling bin audits, the students are placing a recycling bin and raising money for a water bottle refill station near the gym, to cut down on the number of plastic bottles that are thrown in the trash cans.

The intended impact of the project is to get teens thinking about their buying habits and their purchasing choices, realizing that everything has a lifecycle. Each of their choices will impact the environment in some way, either positively or negatively. We also want to bring awareness that repurposing and reusing have a greater impact on the landfills, than recycling does. A good deal of the recyclables are easily contaminated or are simply thrown away, due to confusion and lack of education about what can and cannot be recycled. Ultimately, we wanted teens to use their imaginations and create outfits and/or accessories out of some of the trash they collected and participate in the 6th Annual Lynnhaven Trashion Show (See Garbage to Glam PowerPoint in the Google Drive folder).


Students attended


Staff attended


Additional Volunteers attended


Students will be impacted this year

Intended impact of project

Reduced environmental impact

Impact of project

Educated on sustainable skills and practices
Educated on sustainability knowledge
Environmental restoration
Improved environmental & sustainability literacy
Beautification of school/site
Energy and/or water conservation
Waste reduction

More impact of project

Through the trash audit, they learned how much recycling is placed in the trash cans and how much trash is contaminating the recycling bins. Students were amazed at the amount of waste with the water bottles that they found in the garbage bins outside the gym (See Trash Audit sheet for basketball game in Google Drive folder). Several students said that they have decided not to buy water bottles, but use a reusable one instead. Others suggested that they place a designated recycling bin outside the gym, possibly with a dump station, so that bottles are empty when recycled. The Green Team is looking into ways to raise money and buy a water bottle refill station to place outside the gym.
A few of the lower level students, who normally have a hard time concentrating and doing well in a traditional classroom, really got excited about doing something with the trash that was collected from the trash audit. They asked if they could make some things out of the trash that was picked from the trash audit and wanted to make jewelry and other things out of the trash right then and there.
An unintended consequence is that some students have started a clothing exchange with a rack of clean, gently worn clothing bearing the sign Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. They are encouraging students to leave unwanted/outgrown clothing, and to take something new from the rack.
Students that participated in the Trashion Show said that they really liked being able to use their creativity and liked the challenge of using unwanted materials to make something wearable and fun. They are already planning for next years show!
The schools are always encouraged to think outside the box to engage their students in real-world authentic STEM lessons. This project, not only fulfilled that requirement, but with the designing and creating of outfits, turned the STEM lesson, into a STEAM lesson all without robots or 3-D printers.
To add to the authenticity of the lesson, CJ Hill, a former Miss Virginia and runner up Miss America, came to the Green Club and talked to them about confidence on the runway, her passion for the environment and using their talents to make a difference in the world. The students were very attentive and having her come to the class inspired them to be more confident on the stage.
This project is not over, so we may yet have more impacts once they do their unit on watersheds and marine debris in the spring.
Through the pre and post assessments, and interviewing students, we saw that there was a change in the students understanding of what could and could not be recycled, as well as the use of both sides of a piece of paper. We also saw a significant change in the use of the blue bins for recyclables. We were surprised at some of the results, especially that the students do not understand the difference between re-purposing and recycling, even after discussions and being part of the Trashion Show. We realized that many adults do not understand the difference and use the words interchangeably all the time in media and general conversation, so the students do not hear the correct usage of the terms. This is something that we will work on with the spring units.
Changes in the students behavior is more pronounced in the anecdotal evidence than in the pre and post assessment. This may be a flaw in the survey itself.
The students that audited the recycling bin ended up with a lot of paper that could have been recycled, except someone threw a coffee cup with coffee still in it into the bin and contaminated all the paper in the bin. This led the students to talk about having a dump station or putting up posters to let people know what happens when they place liquids in the recycling bin.
There are no designated recycling bins in the gym area, so everything is placed in one bin after an event in the gym. When the Green Team audited that bin, they found that the majority of the trash was actually water bottles that could be recycled, if they were empty. This led the students into a discussion of the possibility of adding a dump bucket and recycling bins to the gym area and/or putting in a water bottle refill station.
Next year, the school is no longer teaching Earth Science, but switching to Environmental Science classes. We are working to integrate this into the curriculum, with hopefully even more students participating in the Trashion Show.
As a follow on, the students are looking into ways to raise money in order to add a water bottle refill station at the gym area, as well as adding recycling bins with dump station, in order to cut down on the water bottles going into the trash and encouraging people to refill, rather than purchase a water bottle. If this happens, another trash audit will be done to determine if it made a difference.
This project was integrated into the Earth Science Classes and covered the standards dealing with Renewable vs. non-renewable and environmental costs and benefits
After the trash and recycling bin audits, the students filled out a questionnaire (See Trash Audit Analysis sheet examples in Google Drive folder). From those sheets, the students discussed some of their ideas. Also attached is a listing of some of the ideas that were generated regarding reusing or re-purposing both non-recyclables and recyclable materials (see Trash Audit Analysis Ideas)
The students are collecting empty glue sticks and markers and sending them off to be recycled by Crayola and Elmers.
In April, the students in Earth Science will be doing a unit on watersheds which deals with human impact on the environment and activities affect health of the water supply. In the Oceanography Class, they will be focusing on marine organisms and the effects of plastics pollution on them. The students will be making posters using the plastics that they collect during a yearly coastal clean-up in early June and those pulled during the audits. These posters will have the theme of educating the public about plastics pollution. At this time, we will be circling back and connecting the dots with the trash audit that the students did for this project.
Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math were all incorporated into the project. The students examined this project in the light of a STEM project and generated the connections that were used in the Garbage to Glam Powerpoint. Working through Lynnhaven River, this project involved the greater community through the Trashion Show. According to the staff at Lynnhaven Mall, this show brings upwards of 4,000 people to the Mall on the day of the show. It is a great way to educate the audience about the problems we face with trash- the amount we generate, the way we dispose of it, and the consequences for the environment. Community volunteers love working with the students during the planning and design phase, as well as during the show itself. The biggest partnership with the Trashion Show is between Lynnhaven River NOW, a local non-profit working to clean up the waterways in Virginia Beach and Lynnhaven Mall. Beyond that we had support from the following:
We polled the teachers that sponsored the Trashion Show team from their school and received the following comments:
This program is great at getting my students involved in problem solving, dealing with a real world problem. My students eyes have really been opened regarding how much trash they produce in a day or a weeks time. They find new ways to reuse this trash rather than throwing it away. Some even told me that they have thought about ways to eliminate waste by rethinking what they purchase and use. They also gain confidence in themselves to go out and support a cause in front of so many people.
My students love that this is a totally different way to express themselves. The students love the social aspect. They are able to meet students from the other schools while in the dressing rooms, waiting backstage or during rehearsals. These participants are absolutely different students than are members of the schools environmental club. The students are drawn into environmental issues due to the program. The dynamics of participants are generally more diverse. Many students like the allure of being a designer or model, a very different interest than students that want to grow oysters, do trash pickups, or plant gardens. However, in the end, both groups have a better understanding of environmental issues and feel the need to make a difference in the future. The conversations from the Trashion Show participants on plastic straws and K-cup coffee containers made me a believer in the power of this program. At FCHS, one of the students designed 4 outfits, because she loves to get involved in the artistic side.
Some of my art students have little interest in science, but found it fascinating to research about waste and work with unusual materials. They saw the connection between science and art in the real world. It is truly a rewarding experience to work with students who are given the chance to create wearable art and see them so proud of what they are creating. Even a month after the show I still have students thinking and talking about what they can do for next year. The conversations focus on what are some of the worst types of items that end up in landfills that could be used for clothing.
As part of the Trashion Show, Lynnhaven River NOW gives out the Principals Pride Award-for Sustainability and Stewardship on and off the runway. The Award is a $250.00 Visa gift card and the famous trash can trophy, complete with Oscar and Grouch!! (see PowerPoint). This year, due in part to the Connect the Dots Challenge, First Colonial High School was chosen to receive the award. They will either be using the monies to work on their veggie and herb gardens and design a watering system for the window boxes and planters that is more sustainable or added to another grant, will be purchasing a water bottle refill station.