May 12, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson

Elementary and high school students in Mason County scrounged around their homes for items their families planned to throw away.  Some turned the items into sculptures of animals, trucks, and flower gardens, while others made more functional items like clothes, dollhouses and decorative lamps.

The projects were all part of a contest sponsored by the Mason County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service designed to teach young people the importance of recycling and taking care of the environment.

High school first-place winner Britney Huron, a sophomore at Mason County High School, got inspiration from her 3-year-old cousin Gracie when she was deciding what to make for the contest.  She built a two-story dollhouse and called it “Gracie’s Dream.”

“I came up with the idea because I want to go into architecture and I have a little cousin who really likes to play with dolls,” she said.  “The whole time I was constructing it, she (Gracie) was playing with it.”

Huron used cardboard for the walls and floors, straws for columns on the porch, and paper napkins for curtains.  The dollhouse was complete with furniture for every room. She used parts of aluminum cans to create chairs for a kitchen table and paper jewelry boxes for window boxes.

“It was a lot more work than fun,” she admitted.  “The most fun part was watching Gracie play with it.  I worked on it for weeks, just a little bit at a time so I could get all my ideas and put them in.”

Mason County High School Junior Mack Ingram stopped his mother from putting an old lamp into a yard sale.  He had a bright idea for improving the fixture and bringing it into his bedroom.

“I knew I wanted to do something with color,” he said.  “When you hear about trash, you automatically think of grays and blacks and dirty stuff.  I wanted something really bright and colorful.  I also found some glass that had been thrown out and I thought that would be a good way to reflect the light.”

Ingram broke up old CDs that people in his art class no longer wanted.  He glued them to the inside of the lampshade and painted bright colors in between.  The result was a very colorful “new” lamp from materials that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Jane Poe is the chairman for the Mason County Homemaker’s environmental committee.  She organized the project with Mason County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Deborah Cotterill and Mason County Judge-Executive James “Buddy” Gallenstein.

“I’ve always been interested in and I’ve always felt a responsibility to preserve the earth,” Poe said. “Things have changed since I grew up.  We have created a monster and we have to find ways to deal with it. I think the only way to do that is through education – to create awareness.”

The trash sculpture contest is only one part of a countywide effort to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills.  Cooperative Extension has been working for many years to help the county meet and exceed recycling goals.  A state-of-the-art recycling center allows a five-county area to recycle plastic, aluminum, paper, glass and more.  County jail inmates provide the labor to sort through waste as it arrives at the facility.  After it is sorted, materials can be sold to various vendors who use recycled goods.

  “Senate Bill 2 back in 1990 mandates a 25 percent reduction of what goes into the landfills,” Gallenstein said.  “That 25 percent would be pretty easy if everybody would follow these kids’ example and start recycling and making things out of recycled material.”

Gallenstein said from the beginning Cooperative Extension stepped up to the challenge and made the environment a top priority.

“Our efforts here would not be possible without the efforts of the Homemakers,” he said.

Each month, Homemakers have an environmental program. They also write editorials to local papers to encourage recycling and maintain an environmental teaching kit that can be checked out to teach groups about recycling. The kit explains how to identify recyclable materials and what to do with them.

“Our goal coincides with the county’s in getting the number of people who participate in recycling to increase, and even those already participating to increase the amount they recycle,” Cotterill said.  “We hope to instill in children that they can make art and functional items from recyclable materials, and then also to look at what they purchase to begin with and not buy things that are sending so much trash to the landfills. We want them to get on with a recycling program and see the importance of it.”

Gallenstein said the only way to change the future and how much goes into the landfills is to educate the younger generations.

“As you know, it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks,” he said.  “But if you teach the pups how to do things the right way, eventually we’ll have the whole community recycling.  That’s why they go into the classrooms and try to teach the next generation to do the proper thing for the environment.”

Each winner received a small cash prize and their sculptures and functional pieces will be on display in June at the Mason County Homemaker’s meeting.


Writer: Aimee Heald-Nielson  859-257-4736, ext. 267