- To observe our lifestyle choices and promote mindfulness in our daily lives
- To question what is discardable and why
- To encourage a behavioral change towards waste management
- To develop an attitude of upcycling in everyday life
The staggering amount of plastic and other non-biodegradable waste has become one of our primary concerns today. The world is running out of landfills, and hazardous disposal of waste is causing soil poisoning, water pollution, and other long-term threats. As consumers, we tend to forget the impact of individual contributions. Big corporates and governments around the world bear a huge responsibility in environmental issues, and we should acknowledge the limitation of an individual’s capacity. However, we should, at the same time, recognise that we have the power to make positive changes in our daily life. A single person produces nearly a hundred tons of trash by the end of their lifetime (see www.streetroots.org).
We must critically analyse our actions and their long-term impacts it has on the planet. A change in thinking is required to build a better tomorrow. For instance, the pandemic has increased the use of disposable material, for hygiene purposes. Alternates to plastic that can also compete in affordability should be developed and their usage widely implemented. This shift in thinking can be sparked through a conversation with the students. The following questions can be introduced as points of discussion:
- What happens to everything we throw away?
- Why are trash and plastic a problem?
- How is our waste impacting the planet?
- What is recycling and upcycling?
- What does sustainability mean? How is it important?
- What are the practices that we can adopt at home to make our lifestyle more sustainable (e.g., composting)?
- Is it truly that only objects or materials are “discardable”? In this pandemic scenario, apart from material waste, who (people or communities) are being treated as “discardable”?
- Which professions are involved in waste management?
- How do government policies shape public behavior towards waste?
Step 1: Me & My Dream
Ask students to talk about their dreams, either by sketching or writing about it. Here are some guiding questions:
- Start small and ask yourself what activities interest you. What do you like to do during your free time? What do you like watching or reading?
- What is your passion?
- What would you like to be in the future?
Next, ask them to create a self-portrait or a puppet using any waste material around them like cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, socks, etc. Ask them questions such as:
- What are the similarities between you and your self-portrait/puppet?
- How do you think the self-portrait/puppet represent you?
- Does it represent you in the present, or your “dream-self” in the future?
This series of YouTube videos discuss some of these questions, but I would suggest letting the students make the puppets on their own.
Step 2: The World Aorund Me
Guide students to observe the environment they live in (house, neighbourhood, school, playground, etc.) and identify the lifestyle practices that are environmentally friendly or environmentally harmful. The following chart may help in this process:
Now, divide students into pairs, and ask them to discuss with their peers one environmental problem in their community or neighborhood that affects them and that they are worried about. This problem can be related to the environmentally unfriendly lifestyle habit they identified in the above mentioned exercise.
Guide students to brainstorm ways to help the community by finding solutions to the environmental problem they have identified. Make use of this worksheet that has tools like a mind map and SWOT [Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat] analysis to help students identify the problem they feel for most.
Step 3: From Passion to Action
This part of the exercise encourages students to consolidate their observation of the surroundings, and to understand the power of our role in making changes in the world we see around us. To create any change, we need to know the kind of world we want to create and identify the existing practices that either aide or hamper our world vision. As an introduction to the exercise, students are encouraged to watch “The Story of Change.”
To turn ideas into action, it is important that teachers individually guide students to think about how the dream they described in STEP 1 can be transformed into reality through action.
Discuss these questions with students:
- Contemplate upon the environment you live in and think about the changes you would like to see around yourself.
- What small innovation around us can make a difference to the environment?
- How can we guide our passion towards change?
Example of student’s project:
While working with students in Dolphin International School in Pulwama, Kashmir, students wanted to create a collage of the school name on their assembly wall with broken tiles and other waste gathered from the campus.
Step 4: “Real”-ising Dreams
This step guides students to create tangible outcomes. Begin by asking students to watch the video “The Story of Solutions.”
Then, ask students to explore the following references on how to re-purpose waste and create new products from it:
- Ideas for Things Made from Waste Material at Home
- 9 Smart Hacks to Reuse Old Clothes! Sewing Tips & Tricks | Artkala
- Ideas for DIY Recycled Home Décor
- Ideas for DIY Recycled Materials Lampshades
To look for waste materials to use in the project, ask students to clear out their cupboard or study table, and make a list of all the trash that comes from there. Guide students to answer the following questions for each item that ends up as waste:
- Why is this considered waste?
- What factors classify things as “discardable”?
- Can this be reused or put to an alternate use?
- Is this useful for someone else? Is it a privilege to have “trash”?
- Where will this waste end up and what is its environmental impact? (organic/inorganic/compostable/recyclable/landfill/ocean)
Then, carry out the following steps with students:
- Use the ideas in the references above to reconsider the waste you discovered.
- Now sketch out one product that you can make by re-purposing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as waste.
- To decide which product would be the most efficient, think of the environmental problem that you identified as a concern in STEP 2. Think of a re-purposed product that can help address that concern.
Again, teachers can encourage students to recall the dream they described in STEP 1, and incorporate their interests in this re-purposing project.
For junior form students, more guidance can be given, and the project scale can be smaller. For example, teachers can ask them to identify a family member they would like to express gratitude to, and create a present for this member out of materials available at home. The present should be of use for the loved one. To make this process easier, think about these questions:
- Why do you feel gratitude towards this particular family member?
- What is it that they do that you are thankful for?
- What can you gift them that can be useful in their everyday life?
The gift can also simply be a sign of gratitude like a card made from pencil shavings or a candle made of collected wax.
Examples of student’s projects:
A student in Dolphin International School liked figuring out how electric equipment work. She designed a lamp using waste material and did the circuiting herself with a little help from her parents.
In this second example, students identified “wearing a mask” as one possible solution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, at the beginning of the pandemic, surgical masks were in very short supply in India, and priority was given to doctors and on-the-ground workers. I was working with a school in rural Bengal, where the awareness over wearing masks and other precautions against the virus was not very prevalent. Under such circumstances, I worked with school teachers who in turn taught higher secondary students to stitch masks using old clothes at home. The masks were then distributed around the village along with pamphlets about the precautionary measures against the virus. The students also put together a small skit that they performed at the city square to raise awareness about the virus. In addition, responding to the shortage of sanitisers, the school worked with local women groups to make soaps and sanitisers at home for distribution. The following instructions from online COVID-19 resources can be used for this particular example.
What amazed me was the drive of the students and the innovative solutions they generated. My role as the facilitator was to encourage solution-oriented thinking and to help them execute their ideas.
It is important to document the process, and to encourage students to reflect upon their work at every step. Carry out the following process with students:
- Write down these ideas in any form you like—poems, stories, sketches, posters, photographs, doodles—anything and everything that helps you think about improving your immediate surrounding.
- Create a journal of all your ideas and publish the entries online to share with your friends.
- Take photographs at each step and make a short GIF of the images to publish along with the journal.
Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference can be very inspiring for students.
About the Artist
A graduate of Theatre Design and Direction from the National School of Drama, Nikita Teresa Sarkar is a creator and curator who works with various disciplines, focusing mostly on gender, privilege, and sustainability. Her artworks are entry points that trigger further conversations. She works with communities to use art as an intervention of social and ecological concerns.
She is a student of the Baul tradition and Kudiyattam. Through the aesthetics of these traditional art forms, she explores the meaning of modernity in art and the dynamics of the audience-performer relationship. As an art educator, she has taught modules on sustainability and design thinking. She has been a recipient of the Ministry of Culture Performance Research fellowship for two consecutive years, and is currently an arts fellow at the Anant University of Design. She is a founding member of the P(art)icle Collective, the Technical Director of Tantidhatri Festival, and the founder of SICCA (Sustainable Indigenous Centre for Collaborative Arts).
Publishing date: 24 February 2021
This Artist Exercise is derived from "Teaching Labs | Learning Paradigms Today: Workshop for Art Educators" in collaboration with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art in 2020. Nikita Teresa Sarkar was a participant of the workshop.
The AAA Learning and Participation Programme is supported by the S. H. Ho Foundation Limited and C. K. and Kay Ho Foundation.