Make Every Day Earth Day

Earth From Space

In this issue, we focus our attention on resources that will help you celebrate Earth Day, and we'll provide some background information about how the holiday evolved. You'll learn about a facility in North Carolina that's leading the way in the ultimate reuse of solid waste: how to use landfill gas as a resource.

Just for fun, we'll show you how to recycle old crayons into a new form of the art material, and we'll share a recipe for a most unlikely taste treat: an edible landfill! Finally, we'll tell you about a company in Georgia that recycles milk jugs into cool playground equipment, and you'll have a chance to win a book that shows how to reuse junk mail to make origami.
What's In This Issue

Spring 2009

Landfill Gas Fuels Creativity and Economic Development

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency sets the requirements for the operation of municipal solid waste landfills. Once a landfill stops receiving waste and is closed, the operators are required to monitor and maintain the facility in order to protect the environment.

Most closed landfills become conservation or recreational areas, but many have been used for shopping malls, office parks, hotels, drive-in theaters, amphitheaters, and airfields. The North Carolina facility featured here is home to the world's first landfill gas-fired pottery kilns and glass furnaces.

Located at the foot of the Black Mountains in Burnsville, North Carolina, the EnergyXchange is a nonprofit organization that operates greenhouses, and clay and glass studios, all powered by landfill gas. In addition to these work areas, the facility features a visitors center and a retail craft gallery.

Celebrating its tenth year of operation on Earth Day, 2009, the EnergyXchange has become a worldwide model for similar operations that seek to find new uses for closed facilities and/or landfill gas.

When the landfill serving Yancey and Mitchell Counties was closed in 1994, citizens began discussing and researching how to reuse the land. Since the area is home to many artists and native plants, it was decided that the closed landfill would be a great place to set up a business incubator.

After years of research and feasibility studies, plans moved forward to create studios and greenhouses that would capture landfill gas and use it as a source of energy. The system was activated on Earth Day in 1999, and two years later, the facility was finished. The craft studios consist of areas that support glass blowing and pottery making.

Landfill gas blower and flare station While at the EnergyXchange, artists have the opportunity to create new work, receive business advice from experts in the field, and sell their glass and pottery in the gallery showroom. The glass furnaces and kilns are powered by gas that's created below the surface of the landfill's cap. As the solid waste decomposes, gas consisting of methane and carbon dioxide is released.

Ceramics in the Pottery Gallery At most landfills, this gas is sent into the atmosphere, but at EnergyXchange, it's collected and used to blow glass and to bake pottery. Collecting and using the landfill gas in this way saves the artists money, and it helps to reduce pollution in the area. In fact, an EPA study showed that the project would have the same effect as taking more than 20,000 cars off North Carolina roads each year

Sales area for the glass gallery Schoolchildren and civic groups often tour the facility, and members of the general public are welcome to visit the EnergyXchange to see how landfill gas is used to create beautiful works of art. A gallery or showroom is filled with pottery and glass that are available for purchase, and artists are often on hand to greet visitors and to answer questions.

Greenhouse growing areaIn addition to providing the power to run glass furnaces and pottery kilns, the landfill gas is used to heat greenhouses. Project Branch Out was created to grow rare and native ornamentals from seed. This helps the economy of the area, and using landfill gas in this way lowers emissions, too.

Students who are accepted into the EnergyXchange program learn how to manage a greenhouse while providing plants such as native rhododendron and azalea for local nurseries. By spring of 2009, the campus will include four greenhouses and seven cold frames.

The EnergyXchange facility provides the area with a renewable source of energy and cleaner air. It also creates more jobs, and the project helps reduce greenhouse gases. Visit the EnergyXchange to learn more about how the organization uses landfill gas to provide fuel for its programs and employment for artists and horticulturists.

Photos were provided by Jim Murray, Executive Director of the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Mangement District.

The Anatomy of a Landfill

Packer truckAs we learned elsewhere at The Imagination Factory, people in charge of solid waste or trash dispose of it in a place called a landfill. In larger cities, a big pit is dug in the ground, andthen it's lined with a special piece of plastic before any garbage is dumped into it. This liner protects the groundwater.

Landfill linerLeachate is water that's become contaminated because it came in contact with waste. In order to further protect the groundwater, it's important that the workers try to keep the landfill dry so the amount of leachate will be reduced. One way this is done is by using pipes that are laid on gravel along the bottom of the landfill. The pumped leachate is then treated at a wastewater plant.

To save space, heavy equipment, such as tractors and bulldozers, smash or pack the trash tightly together. When workers have finished for the day, the solid waste is covered with soil to keep it from contaminating the air and surrounding land. This one day's trash is called a cell. The next day, new trash is dumped into the landfill, and again, at the end of the day, it's covered with dirt. This process goes on for many years.

Compacting trashWhen trash is buried in a landfill, bacteria break it down and create a landfill gas that's about half methane and half carbon dioxide. Since methane is hazardous and can explode or burn, it's necessary that landfills be vented so the gas can escape. Gas collection pipes are placed within the landfill to allow this to take place.

With good planning, a landfill will last many years. When the time comes to close a section, it's necessary that the land be covered or capped. This is done with a synthetic material called polyethylene, and then it's covered with a two-foot layer of soil. Finally, grass is planted to prevent erosion that might occur from wind and rain.

How to:

The pie crust represents the pit or hole in the ground. Line it with strips of the Fruit Roll-Up. Place four or five graham crackers in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Sprinkle crumbs (gravel) onto the first layer.

The shoe string licorice represents the leachate pipes. Cut the candy into two or three pieces that are long enough to stretch across the graham cracker crumb layer. Leave the ends hanging out of the crust on one side.

Mix the instant pudding with milk, add 1 cup of m & m's (or chocolate chips), and gently stir the candy into the pudding. Divide the mixture in half, and carefully spoon small amounts of it onto the graham cracker crumbs. Smooth it out. 

Using a rolling pin, crush half of the  Oreos in a plastic bag, and sprinkle some of the crumbs onto the pudding layer, covering it.

Carefully spoon out and spread the remaining pudding/m & m's mixture over the Oreo crumbs. Crush the rest of the Oreos and sprinkle some onto the pudding/m&m's layer.

Cap the landfill dessert with more strips of the Fruit Roll-Up, and add more crushed Oreos on top.

Spoon small amounts of the chocolate Cool Whip over the Oreo layer, and using a spatula, carefully spread it onto the crushed cookie topping.

For grass, put 2 cups of coconut in a zipper-type, plastic bag. Add 12 drops of green food color, and squeeze until evenly coated. Sprinkle coconut over the Cool Whip and gently press into the topping.

Small pieces of soft, licorice stick will represent the gas collection pipes. Cut them into sections that are about two inches long, and poke the pieces into the top at various places.

To allow it to set up, refrigerate the Delectable, Edible Landfill for about an hour, and then cut and serve. Yum!

Summary of Layers

Cell-graham cracker crust
Liner-Fruit Roll-Ups
Gravel-crushed graham crackers
Leachate pipes-red shoe string licorice
Trash-instant vanilla pudding/m&m's
Trash-instant vanilla pudding/m&m's
Cap-Fruit Roll-Ups
Soil-Chocolate Cool Whip
Grass-dyed coconut
Gas collection pipes-soft licorice sticks
Final layer of dirtPutting on the grass layer
Spooning in the trash first trash layerPutting in the linerPutting in the gravelPutting in the leachate pipesMixing up the simulated trashSpooning in the trash first trash layercrushing the oreos to make dirtSpooning on the trash layerLast liner covering layerAnother layer of dirt

Tips and Tricks:

Make a less expensive model of a landfill by making a salad. Substitute vegetables for the layers described above.

Use a large, clear glass serving bowl to make a dessert that will allow you to see the different “materials” in a landfill. The bowl will represent the landfill, so just increase the amounts of all the other ingredients. Add many more layers of the pudding mix, alternating with the crushed Oreos. Top as before, and spoon to serve.

Chocolate Cool Whip or dessert topping is used in addition to the Oreos in the last “soil layer” to help the coconut stick better. If you can't find this kind in your area, just add chocolate syrup to regular dessert topping and stir.

Getting through the liner or Fruit Roll-Ups may be a challenge, so use a sharp knife in cutting the dessert!

After cleaning up and enjoying your edible landfill, don't forget to recycle the plastic, cardboard, and aluminum.

Thanks to my students, Leo and Lily for creating the Delectable Edible Landfill.  


Drink Your Milk and You Can Go Out and Play!

Safeplay Systems, an American playground equipment company, recycles plastic milk jugs to make playgrounds. Since the company began in 1989, employees have saved more than 7,000,000 containers from going to landfills! Visit Safeplay Systems to learn more about Ecoplay, a post-consumer recycled plastic produced specifically for the playground market.
Safeplay Systems

Pictured above is one of the company's playgrounds. How many milk jugs do you think were recycled to make this model? The Imagination Factory Member who comes closest to the correct answer will win a copy of Junk Mail Origami. Written by Duy and Tramy Nguyen, the book includes nearly two dozen ways to make animals and other figures from junk mail. Send your answer by June 6, 2009 to

The History of Earth Day

The very first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, but its founder, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, came up with the seed for the idea much earlier. In fact, it was eight years prior to Earth Day that the senator began thinking about environmental issues. In November, 1962, he approached President Kennedy with plans for a national conservation tour that would increase awareness of environmental problems.

A little less than a year later, the president left on a five-day tour of eleven states in order to promote national conservation. The tour was not as successful as Senator Nelson had hoped, but over the years, he continued to speak to groups across the country, trying to make the environment part of Washington's political agenda.

At about the same time, the senator noticed how much attention Viet Nam War protesters were receiving, and it occurred to him that his idea of increasing environmental awareness might succeed if he could marshal the same enthusiasm among people at the grassroots level.

Green EarthIn the fall of 1969, Senator Nelson invited everyone to participate in a nationwide demonstration on behalf of the environment. The event was to be held on April 22, 1970, and as soon as it was picked up by the wire services, Earth Day was on its way to becoming a reality and a national event. The first Earth Day was wildly successful, with thousands of schools and millions of people participating.

Over time, concern for environmental affairs seemed to fade, but the 20th anniversary of Earth Day rekindled interest. Oil shortages, pollution problems, shrinking landfill space, global warming, and other environmental issues were once again given the importance they deserve, and in recent years, green issues have gained more attention. Always observed on April 22, Earth Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate Mother Earth and her gifts, and it encourages us to make a better, safer world.

To learn more about Earth Day and how you can participate in a local celebration, visit the Earth Day Network at

Recycle Old Crayons

Three new crayons in a heart shape What do you do with stray crayons or ones that are too short to color with? You melt them to make crayon cookies, of course! This is a fun and easy way to recycle old crayons, and it will help save money.

Recycling crayons also conserves energy and natural resources that would be needed to make new art materials, and giving crayons a second life keeps them out of the landfill.

You'll need:

Color Information

The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. All other colors are made by mixing varying amounts of two or more of these together. However, if you combine all of them, you'll get an ugly brown! That's why it's important to pay special attention to the colors you choose to melt together.

If you mix two of the primary colors, you'll get the following:
Red + yellow=orange
Red + blue=purple or violet
Yellow + blue=green

Orange, violet, and green are called secondary colors. If you add a primary color to a secondary color, you get a third type that's known as a tertiary (TER-she-air-y) color. For example, adding more red to orange yields red-orange, while adding more yellow will give you yellow-orange.

Colors that are related will blend nicely, but mixing those that are opposite each other on the color wheel will turn brown. For that reason, it's best to use all blues and greens, blues and violets, reds and oranges, reds and violets, yellows and oranges, or yellows and greens. For added interest, you may want to add white, silver, or gold crayons to the mix.

The Delectable, Edible Landfill

Well, maybe it doesn't sound so “delectable,” but making this dessert is fun. Also, creating it is a good way to help kids visualize the composition of a landfill. Bon appetit!

You'll need:

Students anticipating the finished treatThe finished landfill dessert

Tips and Tricks:

A full pan of various colorsFor the best results, melt only regular crayons, not washable or the soy-based type.

Using a silicone pan will allow you to easily remove the crayon cookies.

Besides coloring with the crayon cookies, use them in arrangements or as decorations during the holidays.

Visit Crazy Crayons to learn how you can donate scrap crayons to be recycled into new ones.

How to:

Pan and crayonsBreaking crayons into small piecesNow that you know a little more about color, you're ready to make a crayon cookie. Cover your work area with newspapers. Peel the paper covering from the crayon, and have an adult use the knife to score it in four or five places so it will break easily. Snap the crayon into small pieces and place them into one of the openings in the silicone pan. Continue filling the section with similar colors until it's nearly full.

Move on to the next section of the candy or muffin pan, and fill it with broken crayons that are related or similar in color. When you've filled all the spaces, you're ready to make the crayons into large “cookies.” The safest way we know to melt the crayons is to use natural heat, so we'll let the power of the sun help us.

If you live in a warm climate, just place the silicone pan in the sun. You can speed up the process by putting the crayons in your car's trunk or the rear window area. Protect the floor or window area with an old towel and a newspaper. Depending on the weather, it may take several days for the crayons to melt.

When the tops of the crayon cookies are smooth and flat, they're done. If you used your car to melt the crayons, have an adult remove the pan and other materials. Allow the cookies to cool and become solid. Working on newspaper, carefully pop out the shapes, and you're all set to color with your new crayons!

Finished melting in the panRemoving the finished crayonA finished heart crayonUsing your new crayonDifferent crayon mixes
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by Marilyn J. Brackney

Newsletters Archived by Topic

The link above will allow access to dozens of Imagination Factory art activities and articles that appear in all newsletters.

world hands

The following are titles that may inspire you to create work in honor of Earth Day. Use one of the themes to help "jump start" writing a paper about the topic, or make artwork that illustrates it.

Earth Day Theme Suggestions

General Themes

  • Earth Day, every day
  • Save our Earth 
  • Happy Earth Day!

Electric Vehicles

  • Get a charge from electric vehicles!


  • Put trash in its proper place
  • Don't litter


  • Walking and riding bikes are good for you and Mother Earth


  • Support Greenpeace
  • World Wildlife Federation
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • National Wildlife Federation


  • Save our natural resources
  • Turn out the lights
  • Turn off the water

Rain Forests

  • Save the rainforests; save the animals!


  • Plant a tree for Arbor Day
  • Trees give us oxygen!

Animal Rights

  • Animals have rights, too!

Global Change

  • Ride your bike to reduce pollution
  • Walking is good for you and the environment


  • Rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle
  • Support your recycling center
  • I recycle


  • Eat more veggies. It's good for Mother Earth!

Biodiversity and Wildlife

  • Preserve our Wildlife

Land Preservation, Forests and Parks

  • Support green spaces
  • Preserve farm land


  • Buy Kenaf


Art made from a grocery bag


  • Buy recycled paper
  • Use recycled products

Oceans and Rivers

  • Keep our rivers, oceans, and streams clean

Toxins, Pesticides

  • Buy organic farm products
  • Recycle food scraps to make compost
  • Compost is good for your yard and garden