Lessons From Trash

Students prepare recycled plastic bottles for mounting as part of the “Journey to the Sea: An S.O.S from Our Oceans” exhibit at Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

July 16, 2018

Matt Hawkins

Mountains of plastic loomed everywhere at Peoria Disposal Co.’s recycling facility Amidst the piles, Bradley students scavenged for plastic they could turn into artistic treasures. They combed through 15,000 pounds of waste to find single-use bottles and other materials for their environmental display at Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum.

The interactive exhibit, “Journey to the Sea: An S.O.S from Our Oceans,” turned two museum spaces and an outdoor courtyard into an underwater experience with 3,500 bottles filled with blue-tinted water to mimic ocean waves. It also featured 3D printed sea creatures and recyclables in a sandbox and activities to teach children about conservation. An albatross and sea turtle fashioned from plastic greet guests outside the building.

“Art is a good way to present information,” said Katelyn Edwards ’19, a photography major from Riverside, Calif. “Art sticks in your brain better than just reading about something. It’s easier to visualize the impact of what you’re learning about because it’s right in front of you.”

A day at the recycling center brought to life concepts students tackled in art professor Margaret LeJeune’s Art and the Environment class. Garbage students collected is a tiny fraction of the world’s plastic trash. Globally, 8 million metric tons of plastic land in oceans every year. That’s enough plastic to fill five grocery bags of trash on every foot of the world’s coastline.

It caused photography major Sydney Ryan ’19, of St. Charles, Ill., to think more about these issues.

“Seeing and wading through that much plastic really put things into perspective,” said Sydney Ryan ’19, a photography major from St. Charles, Ill. “There was so much waste from the Peoria area. It seemed inconceivable to imagine how much plastic the world produces in a short time.

LeJeune’s class used environmental issues as starting points to create art. Classroom activities and documentaries “A Plastic Ocean” and “Chasing Coral” gave students visual ideas for the final project, which invited the local community to ponder topics presented.