Dear Recyclebank: My kids bring home loads of artwork, but only a small number of these creations are long-term keepers. Can kids’ school art projects be recycled? Painted objects? What about paper with crayon coloring on it? What can parents do to educate teachers about greener choices for arts and crafts? –E. M.
Dear E.: Kids have almost as many craft materials to express themselves with as they have ideas. That makes narrowing down what is and isn’t environmentally friendly a complex task, especially with the difficulties of mixed-material recycling. Here are some rules of thumb.
(P.S. — These apply to gift cards and wrapping paper, too!)
- Using previously recycled paper, plastic, and metal as bases is a good place to start for greener crafts. You may be able to help teachers make greener arts and crafts choices by donating spare newspapers, magazines, bottles, and cans that can be repurposed into new creations, as well as providing ideas for how to do so.
- We have previously covered why you shouldn’t recycle wax paper. For the same reasons, we also don’t recommend recycling crayon drawings. However, leftover crayon stubs can be melted together in the oven for fun new colors, or you can check out the Crazy Crayons program. For a more recyclable choice for drawings, try markers, as ink is more easily processed and removed. (Go for washable markers for home use to save yourself stress!)
- Thick globs of glue will also pose a problem in recycling. Peel those off or tear them away to recover the paper around them. It doesn’t hurt to remove staples before tossing projects in the bin, but you don’t have to — many paper processing facilities have procedures in place to remove them.
- There are all kinds of paints that kids may use in their projects. Unfortunately, while you might already expect plastic-based acrylic paint to be a no-go, it turns out that the water involved in using watercolors and tempera damages the paper fibers and makes them unfit for recycling.
- Other items that may cause issues include glitter, stickers, and craft foam. Try to use these sparingly. If a project is covered in them, avoid recycling.
- Try materials that can be reused again and again without leaving the classroom or home. Options include clays like Monster Clay or Magic Mud, papier-mâché that can be soaked and resculpted, and InstaMorph, a thermoplastic which can be reheated and remolded.
One more fun idea: Kids can try to make their own recycled paper at home! While you likely won’t be able to keep up with all the stacks of drawings and paintings that way, it’s a great way for kids to turn their old projects into new points of pride, and it keeps contaminants out of the greater recycling stream. You can find paper-making instructions here.