Eco-Chair Project: Trash to Treasures - Re-envision Our Trash Use for a More Sustainable Planet

Eco-Chair Project: Trash to Treasures – Re-envision Our Trash Use for a More Sustainable Planet

Teacher: Karen Hidalgo

Grade: 5th grade

Subject areas: Science, Reading, and Writing

Project Overview

Fifth grade students at the Austin Jewish Academy grappled with questions about resource use and misuse and how people across the world were dealing with issues of both the destruction and protection of earth’s resources. Through readings and science labs, students took a hard look at their own misconceptions of waste and resources, and learned about their own ability to contribute to both the problem and the solutions in using earth’s resources. With this knowledge, they were able to develop a deeper understanding of how they could help others redefine their trash through using plastic waste to turn plastic waste around their campus into a reusable and beneficial product. Students created a lasting impact by spreading awareness with their informational letter about resource use and misuse, specifically with relation to plastic, and involved the whole school in both the collection of plastic, and the overall initiative to reduce waste in our school. As a legacy piece, the fifth graders ultimately created their eco-chair, which they designed and engineered for a school that had been affected by the recent hurricanes.

Essential questions: 

What are the types of natural resources?

Within our natural resources, what are the differences between resource use and misuse?

What impact do our waste habits have on the overall well-being of our planet?

How is plastic use and misuse affecting our planet as a whole? More specifically, what are the visible implications of this plastic overuse today?

In serving as environmental stewards, how can we as students prevent the unnecessary growth of landfill waste?

What are ways that we can both support and educate the larger Jewish community through our environmental studies?

Products and Deliverable


*This section helped build a background about resource use/misuse as well as helping students with the engineering process

  • Water Exploration

  • Engineering Challenge-Water Tower

  • Oil Spill Lab

  • Students learn about types of resources (parallels reading of NATIONAL GEO books)


1)  ORDER OF THE TREES  by Katy Farber

*Students practice sighting textual evidence: text to text, text to self, text to world

2) National Geographic Leveled RESOURCE Books for Differentiated Learning Opportunities

  • Indonesia
  • Australia
  • Greenland
  • Peru

3) Read Aloud: ONE PLASTIC BAG

*Writing Prompts to get ideas flowing (6 traits of writing)

-use text to discuss resource use and misuse/6 traits of writing


One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia tells the inspiring story of five women who creatively dealt with their village’s plastic trash problem. Despite limited resources and ridicule, Isatou and her friends persevered for more than a decade, eventually realizing economic empowerment through their recycled plastic purse project. 


Informational Paper Writing: Each student was responsible for one paragraph and research to build the paragraph – this was the first long paper of the year, so the collaborative approach allowed students to build stamina and benefit from the peer editing and work with their classmates.

THE FINAL PRODUCT BELOW was taped to the ECO-CHAIR that was made for the 5th graders at the SCHLENKER JEWISH ACADEMY in Houston-

October 24th, 2017

Dear Shlenker 5th graders,

Do you know how much trash goes into a landfill?  Well enough plastic to reach the moon and back more than 7 times!  That is why, we the 5th grade class at Austin Jewish Academy, made an eco- brick chair for you!  We thought you might like it as a reminder that you are cared about! We know your city has experienced a lot over the last few months and we want you to know we are right by your side. This chair is made out of plastic wrappers, plastic bottles, duct tape and pounds of trash. That is all! It will help the earth and hopefully be fun to use in your classroom!  Keep reading to find out more.     

We made these so that you know that we wanted to help out, and add some joy to your classroom after you had such a hard time dealing with the hurricane. As the 5th grade class, what we enjoyed most about this project for you was building the actual chair.  We learned about renewable and nonrenewable resources and at one point we did an oil spill lab, where we had to use different methods to clean up a spill. We read books about different regions in the world where people were taking natural resources to make various products, while not realizing the impact it had on the world.  We learned that when we misuse resources it can cause lots of bad things to happen to the world, such as global warming, setting toxins out into the world or harming animals. For these reasons, we must use our resources wisely to help the planet overall.

Do you know why we did this project? Look inside the bottles of the chair. What do you see? It’s plastic. Well, why plastic? Plastic is a problem, and we wanted to solve it by making eco-bricks. Plastic is thrown in the landfill and it doesn’t decompose. Instead, when rain comes and fills the landfills, rainwater absorbs polymer which is a toxic chemical. Then the rain combines and creates a toxic stew called leachate. It then creates methane gas. This gas creates what is called a greenhouse effect. This causes global warming, so by using the plastic and the bottles to create these chairs, we help save the world and animals. Also, the leachate can spread through the soil and water that is surrounding the landfill. It acts like water spreading through a sponge. This then makes it’s way to the lakes and can contaminate the water and kill off animals. Now you see why we need to do this. We all need to help stop the plastic misuse. And start #Plasticisaproblem!!!!!  As you learned before, this experience for us is connected to the study of resource use and misuse. We want to preserve our nonrenewable resources, like oil and coal, and try to use our renewable resources like wood and our beloved sun. Together we can make a change!!!

To begin our project for your class, our teacher showed us videos to learn about eco-bricks. Our challenge was to use what we learned to create a chair for your classroom. How did we make it and what were the steps and ideas? Well first we had to brainstorm to see what our ideas were. We came up with many ideas initially, from connected fans, to cup-holders, back support and space to put your school stuff. Finally we decided which of our ideas would work the best together and wrote our designs for the chair. When we had a good sketch we used our eco-bricks to begin building. After lots of fixing and rebuilding our basic idea, we were ready to stuff the bottles, which would be the strength of the chair. Thanks to our entire school, families and classrooms, who collected and brought the trash to us for our project, we were ready to go! This took a couple weeks and when we were done we started to make your chair.    

We hope you enjoyed learning about how plastic is harmful and how you can help too!! You can join us in saving animals and stop global warming. We just want to make sure we can help in any possible way, from picking up litter to making things out of eco-bricks.  You can make eco-bricks too to help other schools in Florida, Puerto Rico and beyond that were affected by the hurricane (but don’t forget to pass on the #Plasticisaproblem).  You can make chairs, tables and even walls with eco-bricks because they are extremely durable and 100% eco-friendly.

We hope you enjoy our gift. It is the least we could do!

Bye ya’ll,

Austin Jewish Academy, 5th grade

P.S. Please take a picture of your class with your chair and send it to us! Have an awesome school year!

Here is a Mini-Lesson Example for writing Expository Text (served as one of the pre-curors for this written element, alongside strategies to successfully gather research on the topic of plastic waste.


**This section shows some examples of videos that served as the building blocks to a deeper understanding of resource use/misuse

(can use iPads)

Essential Question: How are people coming up with innovative solutions to life’s resource challenges?

Connection to Israel:

*Israel using solar energy innovations to help African country

Eco-Bricks…What are they and how are they a sustainable solution?

Overarching Learning Goals (see pictures below)

  • Students will learn the differences between renewable, non-renewable and inexhaustible resources
  • Students will see, through simulations and an oil spill lab, how the misuse of resources has serious implications on our planet, and discuss and brainstorm ways to be part of the sustainable solutions
  • Students will read various texts, both fiction and non-fiction to build meaning within these environmental topics
  • Students will practice research techniques and learn the components of expository writing to serve as the foundation for the collaborative paper
  • Students will learn about eco-bricks as a solution to plastic waste.
  • Students will learn the engineering design -process, to help them design and re- the creation of their eco-chair.
  • Students will facilitate lasting change on the campus by involving the school in plastic collection to be used in the eco-chair creation.
  • Students will practice Tikkun-Olam by creating an eco-chair for the 5th graders who were affected by the recent hurricanes