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Packing peanuts and cardboard can morph into an adorable hedgehog.

Discarded aluminum can build a dashing knight in shining armor.

Old nuts and bolts can transform into an elegant Eiffel Tower.

At the Adams County Arts Council's current exhibit, the items in your garbage bags are living second lives.

The 21st Annual Recyclable Art Contest and Exhibit showcases Adams County students' creativity, featuring about 100 works made from materials that were once headed to the trash can. The exhibit is free and open to the public through April 23 at the Arts Education Center, 125 S. Washington St., Gettysburg.

"It's a fabulous display of Adams County's students' work turning trash into treasure," said Executive Director Chris Glatfelter.

The show is one of the first events the Adams County Arts Council created, Glatfelter said, adding that it was launched to coincide with Earth Day. Students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade are invited to submit work for the show, using unlikely materials to make extraordinary art. The pieces are judged, and cash prizes are awarded.

"It's amazing what you can do with plastic grocery bags," Glatfelter said. "Last year, the winning piece was a dress that the student made out of Starburst wrappers. That was really neat."

The contest, instead of troubling students to buy expensive brushes, paints or other art supplies, highlights the limitless possibilities of everyday items. For example, one piece in this year's show repurposed a broken tea cup. Egg crates are another popular material, Glatfelter said.

"I think in that way, this contest and exhibit help bring art down to an everyday level for kids, and I certainly believe that the arts should be a part of our everyday life," Glatfelter said. "A contest like this helps drive that home."

In her 14 years of involvement, event volunteer and retired teacher Ann Walsh has seen changes in the types of materials students rescue from the depths of waste baskets.The caps from portable, squeezable apple sauce packets are big right now, and old CDs are also getting a lot of play.

The open-ended nature of the contest makes for boundless creativity.

"There are guidelines for the contest, but they can do whatever they want," Walsh said. "There's no pattern. There are no directions. They just get to go and make whatever they want."

A surge in online creative inspiration websites, such as the social network Pinterest, is helping students become more imaginative, Walsh said. She has seen students use parts from disassembled electronics and pieces of sea glass.

The "go green," recycling-focused movement that has surfaced in the last few years is leading students to use more materials, not just tin cans and plastic bottles, she said. The quality of the work doesn't reflect the materials' former conditions - Walsh would consider hanging many of the pieces in her living room.

In addition to a judges panel handing out awards, the public is invited to cast ballots for the People's Choice Award. The award-winning pieces will be displayed at the Gettysburg Green Gathering 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 21 at the Penn State Extension Agriculture Center, 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Gettysburg.

"It's not just airplanes made of toilet paper rolls," Walsh said. "It's extremely detailed stuff."

If you go:

What: The Adams County Arts Council's 21st Annual Recyclable Art Contest and Exhibit

When: On display through April 23

Where: Adams County Arts Council Arts Education Center, 125 S. Washington St., Gettysburg. 

For details: Call 717-334-5006 or visit adamsarts.org. 

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