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Students Challenged to Rethink Waste

September 27, 2018

Category: Academics, Environmental Science, Events, Students



Contestants in the 2018 Trash Car Challenge.


Catawba College’s Department of Environment & Sustainability’s Land Management & Ecology class was challenged to rethink their waste in September by transforming ordinary disposable objects into functional race cars.

The process began with students researching upcycling, an increasingly popular practice of converting unwanted materials into ones of even higher quality than the original. Students then took to their dorms, trash cans and recycling bins in search for materials and, with the help of a little glue, tape and imagination, produced several race cars in time for race day earlier this month.

“Looking at this assignment, it completely redefines the word ‘waste.’ Many people, including me before this assignment, look at waste as not reusable. Obviously, that’s no longer the case,” said student Mack Sheppard of Harrisburg.

Race cars had to be made of “at least 80% single-use disposable items,” explained Dr. Tyler Davis, course instructor and Visiting Assistant Professor in the department. “Each group was given two balloons that they could inflate to provide their car with thrust. Drinking straws primarily acted as the cars’ exhaust. The rest was up to their imagination. Items, such as aluminum cans, empty yoghurt containers, foam cups, and plastic snack boxes were brought into the classroom to frame the cars.”


Example trash car made of several types of plastic (empty food containers, drink caps, and straws) with the help of some toothpicks. 

“We used a combination of paper, toothpicks, tape, and straws to create the axles. We got the straws from our drinks and cut them up in several pieces to hold the toothpicks. The toothpicks were stuck in the lids and were wrapped in paper and tape to make them spin easier,” explained students Dustin Sink of Clemmons and TJ Wooten of Tarboro.

“This activity has required us to rethink what we define as waste. It really allowed us to exhibit our creativity to think of what can be reused and what could be composted and/or trashed,” student Taylor Mason of Winston-Salem concluded. 

Dr. Davis also challenged himself and entered his own creation into the competition. “The students were really creative in this process,” he said. “There was a lot of revising of designs to make their cars faster. It was my intent with this activity to see if I could change the perspective on how we define waste and, in so doing, challenge students to think about ways we might manage our waste it in the future.”

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