February 21, 2007 | By: Aimee Nielson

Many students in western Kentucky stockpile trash throughout the year hoping to pocket some cash for creativity and to raise awareness about recycling. They use recyclable trash to create sculptures for a six-county competition sponsored by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and each county’s recycling center.

A brochure advertising the competition states that in this decade, Americans may throw away more than 1 million tons of aluminum cans and foil, more than 11 million tons of glass bottles and jars, more than 4.5 million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper – almost all of which can be recycled.

For the past seven years, students and adults in Trigg, Caldwell, Livingston, Crittenden, Lyon and Marshall counties have been showing their neighbors the importance of recycling by participating in the annual Trash Sculpture Competition.

“I try to promote it as helping to encourage them to recycle and understanding the importance of recycling, as well as helping them to realize ‘I can use this for that’ and it doesn’t necessarily have to be thrown away,” said Rhonda Jewell, UK Extension agent for 4-H youth development in Caldwell County. “Plus, it also gives them a chance to be creative and that’s one the most interesting things, especially this year – the creativity is just overwhelming.”

Participants used such things as candy bar wrappers, tin cans, aluminum foil, egg cartons, soda cans, tinsel, snack bags, straws, vinyl records, hardware, coffee filters, bottles and cardboard boxes to create a castle, train, robot, aquarium scene, soda can flowers and dozens of other projects.

Each school has a competition and the three winners from that stage move on to a county contest. The three top winners at the county level move on to a regional competition, where top prize is $150, second place earns $100 and third earns $50.

“We tried to put more emphasis this year on the education, so everyone was supposed to create some type of piece that would go out with the brochure, which has some facts and statistics about recycling,” said Janeen Tramble, UK Extension agent for 4-H in Trigg County. “They were supposed to put together something specific to their county, like maybe where their recycling center was or what type of things the center takes.” 

Jewell said the organizers try to choose a wide array of judges to pick the competition’s winners. Employees from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture as well as someone from the local conservation district with a background in art scored the projects. Darrell Jones, who works in environmental services for KDA, said he was happy to judge the sculptures this year.

“It’s interesting to see what the boys and girls can make from trash, recycling it,” he said. “Creativity every year gets beyond the imagination of an adult, it seems like. I’m looking for a variety of things they may have used, imagination and creativity.”

Tramble said she knows of one family who was responsible for four entries in this year’s competition.

“They have children ranging from lower elementary all the way up to high school now who enter and they always do well,” she said. “They plan ahead and that’s what you really have to do. They must never throw anything away.”

Jewell said one student from Caldwell County has racked up quite a bit of cash through the years with her award-winning sculptures.

“She’s probably earned close to $1,000 over the years,” she recalled. “(She and her sister) participate every year. I don’t know what lures (them) back – the creativity or the money, but the creativity is amazing. One year, one of the judges wrote that they saw an aspiring engineer and I agree that she has an interesting career ahead of her.”

After the regional projects have been judged, they are put on display at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton for one month. Tramble said the projects bring a lot of attention to recycling. 

“There’s a lot traffic of people that come through there, not just Extension people,” she said. “In our county, we display county winners out at our county judge executive’s office, where people have to go to renew their license, so a lot of people get to see them.”

Winning projects stay on display for about a month before the students receive their awards.


Janeen Tramble, 270-522-3269 or Rhonda Jewell, 270-365-2787