Youth Up Front: Students Help to Build a Circular Economy


As the Circular Innovation Council promotes the rising circular economy (a framework that minimizes waste), classroom participation also contributes to awareness by repurposing and sculpturing art. Here are some great examples of what is happening in Canadian schools.

Students from Thunder Bay’s Pope John Paul II’s Environment Club endeavoured to go beyond their school community. Last year, these students gathered polystyrene to give to their local company, Eco Carbon Foam Inc. This Canadian business is the first to work with recycled polystyrene to produce type 4 rigid foam insulation boards. The company processes recycled insulation and recently received certification for its recycled insulation products. Their foam boards are currently being used in Ontario as well as other out-of-province construction sites.

Every morning the Environment Club set up their display and containers in the school’s foyer. As people came in, they started contributing. Teacher Sylvia Dziurda stated that she is proud of the impressive amount brought in by students.

The Environment Club was excited to be given a tour of the factory to learn more about the end result of their polystyrene collection. As the CBC reported, “The students clearly have a passion for the environment and are happy to see that their efforts help and make a difference.” The Eco Carbon Foam staff were impressed by the excellent questions and the youth’s leadership skills.

Environmental Club member, Emily Kivi, stated, “It’s been absolutely amazing just to see how much we’ve collected as well as being an incredible experience.”

Fellow colleague, Madelyn Brassard, commented, “We’ve all been bonding closely, especially with ideas. Having a shared interest has just made us grow closer.”

Pope John Paul II’s Environment Club provides inspiration for Canadian students to seek out local businesses or manufacturers that can utilize discarded materials.

After attending an online conference on Climate Change, grade three and four students at Holy Trinity Elementary in Torbay, Newfoundland, learned how plastic pollution was affecting their ocean coastlines and waterways. With reuse in mind for non-recyclable plastic bottle caps, these students decided to create painted mural boards filled in with saved bottle caps, thus saving them from becoming trashed. As Holy Trinity School is close to the Atlantic Ocean and borders a protected wetland called Torbay Gully, they were keen to learn about climate change and how plastic affects their area.

The students investigated non-recyclable bottle cap projects and decided to create undersea and wetland images. After organizing a plastic bottle cap collection area and distributing a digital flyer for bottle cap donations, they drew, painted, and filled in murals with caps. One themed panel for each class was displayed at their school. As this project, which included a 4:18 minute video, was extremely successful, it was decided to keep their collection system in place to repurpose non-recyclable items for similar creations. Reading Specialist Erinne Kearsey and the school’s teaching and learning assistants were a great help. In fact, everyone from kindergarten to grade four (approximately 500 students) was enthusiastically involved in highlighting the need to reduce waste.

Kearsey declared, “Our efforts required students to apply skills of communication, creativity, collaboration, character, critical thinking, and citizenship—all six of the global competencies today’s learners require for their future and the future of our planet. While our students move to the next grade, we are excited to say that through their efforts they have inspired a legacy project that we will continue in our school for future classes.”

Project mates, Sadie and Gwen, exclaimed, “We helped save the earth by collecting plastic and we created a portrait that will stay a long time. It was exciting because we painted and we used a drill in school. We learned that anything can turn into something new and we taught people to recycle.”

Holy Trinity Elementary project was supported by the Learning for a Sustainable Future’s “Climate Action Projects.” A link to their video is listed under Related Links on the next page.

For decades, primary teachers have had a stash of egg cartons and toilet roll cylinders on hand for crafts. Today, many classes collect a variety of non-recyclable items such as onion bag netting, chip bags, candy wrappers, broken zippers, bread tabs, corks, bits of fabric, packaging and much more— you get the picture. When a sufficient amount has been gathered, students decide what unique items they can make, whether useful or just for fun. Possibilities abound! A school’s crest or mascot erected in the foyer made from pieces of junk art sends a message of awareness. Words could be made to post an environmental message. A mural of your area’s nature trails might get displayed at City Hall. An ambitious team of students might even like to invent a board game.

Elliot Lake’s Our Lady of Lourdes French Immersion Catholic School teachers Natalie Lebel and Chantal Tellier introduced their grade three classes to the “Junk Art” concept during “Waste Free October /22.” Shortly after, with the aid of some finger paints and crayons, each student had great fun using their own imagination. Label stated, “My students never looked so motivated to get something done. They were definitely engaged.”

There is also an opportunity for shop classes to teach students how to take things apart for reuse or recycling. For example, old-style reclining swivel chairs with broken springs needn’t be trashed. Good fabric pieces are reused and ripped ones become rags. Broken steel wiring joins the heap of scrap metal recycling. Nuts, bolts, and screws are saved. Useful wood can be stacked for projects and splinters make good fireplace starters. Local businesses that transport fragile items would find the foam padding useful. Even a swivel base with a new top might become useful in their workshop. If a heavy chair is weighed, perhaps a city council could donate equal dollar value to the school for what it costs to landfill.

Students find joy in repurposing and designing from unwanted items that leave them with little recollection of their original purpose. Through environmental school projects, teachers and youth will help enable us to alter our purchasing and throwaway habits.

Related Links


Larraine Roulston
Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. To view, visit:

This article is featured in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2023 issue.

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