Preschoolers turn plastic debris into art

Bronson Brim examines a piece of plastic during an art project with his class from Simply Kids Preschool in Astoria.

Bronson Brim examined the broken wedge of black plastic a friend handed him.

“What’s this?” the preschooler asked, turning it over so the letters “DVD” were suddenly visible, stamped on one side.

“A shark fin for you!” his friend exclaimed.

Because — indeed — the former DVD tray was broken into the approximate shape of a shark fin. Brim turned back to an old window on the table in front of him and considered where to place the fin.

He and his classmates from Simply Kids Preschool in Astoria collaborated with the Bumble Art Studio’s preschool program last week to create murals on windows using odds and ends of plastic that washed up on local beaches.

Preschoolers arrange plastic debris into a mural

Students at Bumble Art Studio’s preschool program arrange marine plastic debris into a mural on an old window.

The art is part of a larger Trash Talk Project created by the Haystack Rock Awareness Program in an effort to educate the public about the issues of plastic pollution in marine environments and to keep the plastic from ending up in landfills.

In the program, discarded, ocean-warped plastic becomes wearable jewelry, art or even window murals encased in resin.

The plastic the preschoolers sorted through was collected during the Haystack Rock Awareness Program’s marine debris surveys in Cannon Beach and from local beach cleanups.

Familiar items surfaced as the children sifted through buckets of plastic, on the hunt for the perfect pieces and colors to fill in a design of a bee buzzing among flowers and honeycombs on their windows. There were old soap bubble wands, bucket handles, a pink spoon, milk caps.

“By tying in the items that they recognize with the concept that it’s marine debris that we picked up off the beach — maybe even things they recognize from their own visits to the beach — next time they go, they’ll be sure to not leave it behind,” said Pooka Rice, outreach coordinator for the Haystack Rock Awareness Program.

In years past, children were drilled on the importance of recycling. With rising concerns about plastic pollution and especially the accumulation of microplastics — tiny pieces of plastic that are difficult if not impossible to recycle — Trash Talk’s work tries to answer a new and growing recycling conundrum: What to do with the excessive amount of plastic that gets dumped into the environment and then washes up in strange tiny pieces on the beach.

Kids love to help with beach cleanups.

“It’s a way for them to feel like they’re doing something,” Rice said. “Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they can’t help.”

Colorful plastic pieces collected from North Coast beaches

Colorful plastic pieces, some familiar, are sorted by color in buckets and used in art murals in Bumble Art Studio’s preschool classroom in Astoria.

But the project also gives them permission to view these scraps that pollute marine environments as potential art materials.

For the students of Simply Kids Preschool, the reuse work they were engaged in as an art project carries on in their own classrooms, said Adrienne Hunter, the preschool’s owner and operator.

In their creative play, the students are often asked to look at recyclable objects like the cardboard centers of toilet paper rolls or peanut butter jar lids and ask themselves, “What can this be other than what it is?”

The preschool uses dishes made from recycled plastics and they got rid of single-use paper napkins, instead using cloth napkins. Objects that would have been trash are often repurposed in the classroom.

For Hunter, the extra cost of forgoing easy and often cheaper options like paper napkins or disposable dishes is not even a question.

“Our focus was really not looking at the costs,” she said, “but just being conscious of how we use things and what we throw away.”

The preschoolers’ windows, along with the work of other young students in local classrooms, will be on display at the old ABECO building on Commercial Street during Second Saturday Art Walk in April.

Katie Frankowicz is a reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact her at 971-704-1723 or kfrankowicz@dailyastorian.com.

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