On Friday afternoons, American High’s Re:Use team meets in science teacher Candy Sykes room. The team quickly sets to work making jewelry, weaving rugs and experimenting with new ways to turn trash into saleable objects to help raise funds for science classes on campus. The room has a happy buzz of quiet, engaged conversation as hands busily work to create new stuff out of old materials.
One popular activity is the transformation of spent gift cards into earrings using a die cut set and other simple tools. Recently students began experimenting with using colorful HDPE plastics from shampoo bottles, laundry detergents and other household products to add more color and variety to the jewelry.
At the weaving station, students cut t-shirts into long strips and hang them on a color-coded rack. Others use these strips on custom-made looms to weave small rugs, pot-holders and trivets.
Materials created by the Re:Use team will be sold at EarthDay events, campus fundraisers, and at the 2014 Maker Faire where students will also lead workshops in creative reuse for the Faire’s 100,000+ attendees.
Inspired by a tour of the Owens Illinois glass bottle and jar factory in Oakland, American High School AP Chemistry teacher Candy Sykes decided to persue her dream of having students recycle glass on campus.
"I want students to go beyond just collecting materials for recycling," notes Sykes, "I want them to actually learn how stuff is made."
With a grant from the Altamont Education Advisory Board, Sykes was able to purchase a glass firing kiln, ceramic molds, and other start up supplies to begin experimenting with glass remanufacturing.
"We did get some advice from the lead engineer and glass chemists from the factory, but at this point, we are truly experimenting to see what works."
Students are collecting different types and colors of glass, breaking them into course, medium and fine grade frit, arranging a variety of firing schedules, and tracking the results.
"Glass has to cool down slowly or it will de-vitrify," explains Pavritra Ravishankar- one of Sykes's students. "Luckily, we have a programmable kiln, so we can raise the temperature quickly, then specify a cool down schedule to avoid crystalizing the glass."
To test different configurations, students are using a mosaic tile ceramic mold to create 1"x1" glass tiles. Sykes hopes to one day create enough tiles for large projects and expand to using shaped molds for creating glass jewlery. Students apply kiln-wash to the mold to prevent glass from fusing to the mold itself, then add glass and any additives.
So far, students have discovered that brown glass melts and fuses the easiest compared to green and clear glass. Medium/course frit produces a nice pebbled texture, and clear glass can be colored by adding various chemical salts to the firing molds.
Pavritra shared the school's results on March 17th at the International Zero Waste Youth Convergence in San Francisco. She and her peers hope to have the process understood and functioning by the end of May so they can share and sell their products at the Maker Faire.
After a waste audit at American High revealed that over 75% of trash in many of the garbage cans located in common areas could have been composted, teachers and students took action.
With support from an Altamont Education Advisory Board Grant, teacher Candy Sykes was able to purchase lightweight diversion stations for the rotunda. "It was important to our custodial staff that the stations be easy to move so they can sweep and polish the large area. We were able to find stations that are lightweight and seem durable."
Sykes and her fellow science teachers plan to set up a service program through their classes where students help monitor the bins and educate their peers about the proper placement of compostable materials.
The bins were assembled and installed by the school's Recycling Team on Friday, March 15th.
American High School's Recycling Team is a group of students dedicated to keeping the school clean and green.
The team collects and sorts recyclable materials, redeems bottles and cans for funding used on environmental projects and scholarships and seeks ways to expand and improve its efforts.
The Recycling team volunteers are frequently joined by 9th graders from Ms. Wheaton's Biology class who are able to earn extra credit points for helping the environment.
Students meet near the school's science wing every Friday afternoon to process the reclaimed materials, regularly filling large clear bags full of crushed plastic bottles and aluminum cans.
Students also wash and maintain the recycling bins and signs around campus.