DIY Project: Sustainable Crafting Meets Engineering Design

My least favorite non-recyclable plastic is the single-use plastic baggie. They’re cheap and easy to use, making them a lunchbox staple. But, they’re not as easy to reuse and not at all recyclable. Over the last few years, products like Bee’s Wrap have entered the market as a sustainable alternative to the plastic baggie. While useful, priced at about $20 for a three-pack, these products are not financially accessible to everyone.

I recently wondered, How could I engage the Dirt Girls in a project that involved STEM, taught environmental ethic, and had a practical outcome?

The answer was DIY crafting. We made beeswax sandwich wraps!

I researched different techniques, including the materials most commonly used. I opted for a beeswax, pine resin, and jojoba oil mixture. After I gathered these materials, I made a small batch of melted wax at home using a double boiler method. I experimented with different application techniques and took my prototypes to my garden club where we observed the properties of the commercially available brand and compared them to the ones I made. I explained the mixture and demonstrated how to paint it onto smaller pieces of fabric to practice the procedure.

The mixture dries and hardens pretty quickly, so the following week, we made the beeswax mixture in a crock pot, which helped keep it melted long enough to spread it. We also added less pine resin (to make it less sticky) and more oil (to make it more spreadable). We were able to cover 15 more pieces of cloth, but the improved beeswax mixture was still difficult to apply consistently. To remedy this problem, I layered dry cloth between the heavily-waxed pieces, making an alternating stack between parchment paper. After warming them in the oven for about 10 minutes the mixture melted and spread to the edges of all pieces.

Three Dirt Girls go to the farmers market to sell our DIY beeswax sandwich wraps.

The final result was 50 wraps. On November 30th, three Dirt Girls braved cold and windy weather to interact with buyers interested at the Napa Farmers Market. A second-grade Dirt Girl thought it was really hard, but said, “It paid off because we earned $130.” These funds will be used pay for field trip transportation. 

“Making beeswax wraps was really fun….It was hard the first time we tried it, but when we used a better mixture, we learned  that we don’t have to get it right the first time.”

~ HF, the original Dirt Girl

One of the key differences between how scientists and engineers approach their work is in the nature of the questions they ask and the methods they use to answer them. Scientists seek to explain the natural world, while engineers aim to improve it. Engineers look for problems and then design solutions. Problems can be big or small, broad or deep, but always have contextual factors that limit the solution. This is where the design process comes in.

Image result for design process
The Works Museum in Minnesota created a kid-friendly version of the engineering design process.

The Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2013) devote approximately one quarter of the performance expectations at each grade level to ETS (Engineering, Technology, and the Application of Science). A modified version of a simple DIY “crafting” activity offers a solution to an environmental problem in a way that incorporates engineering design while also teaching sustainability.

The School Garden Doctor empowers teachers, schools, and communities to grow school gardens that enhance science education, nurture wellness, and foster environmental literacy.

Empower a Dirt Girl.

Special thanks to Miss R., Ms. Cadloni, and Mr. Arroyo for assisting me with this hands-on learning experience.

Published by The School Garden Doctor

Established in 2018 to sustain school gardens in the 21st century.

4 thoughts on “DIY Project: Sustainable Crafting Meets Engineering Design

  1. This was a great project all around: it taught so much (including the value of experimentation), resulted in a very useful and practical product, exposed the Dirt Girls to basic economics, and made money! Kudos.


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