Edmonton high school students create company upcycling masks into jewelry

A group of 17 students at Lillian Osborne High School formed a company that crafts jewelry from used masks to help reduce the impact the disposable items have on landfills.

Participating in the Junior Achievement Program, the Grade 10 to 12 students created the original idea, incorporated their business — calling it Gaia after the Greek word for ‘Mother Earth’ — and are now manufacturing and selling necklaces and ear rings online.

After seeing masks as litter or filling garbage cans around their school, Harriet Li, company president and Grade 12 student, said the group was inspired to find a way to reuse them.

“We were thinking about the major global issues and COVID was a big one,” Li told CTV News Edmonton. “So we decided to focus more on the environmental side of that and, if you really think about it, everyone wore masks.

“You have to think about where these masks go when you throw them out,” Li added. “So, we decided to upcycle them into jewelry.”

Students gather single-use non-surgical or N95 masks, sanitize them, and then disassemble them into their individual layers to encase in resin.

So far, the company has crafted around 250 pieces, with around half already sold.

“All the masks students use for the production of the products are effectively ones that are found laying on the ground,” said Naveed Chaudhry, a career pathways counsellor.

“They’re basically garbage,” he added. “(But), these students have found an innovative way to make sure they just don’t end up in the landfill.”

Gaia team members recently competed at the Junior Achievement big pitch and trade show competition and took the top prize for their innovative idea.

For Chaudhry, having students participate in the Junior Achievement Program allows them to learn about being an entrepreneur, how to communicate and be a leader.

“A program like Junior Achievement,” Chaudry said, “only enriches the learning experience. They’re in charge of the learning and getting a chance to be creative and take the bull by the horns and run a company.”

Through the program, students lead the entire process but are guided by mentors from the Edmonton business community, like Mark Tamagi.

“The students all came up with it,” Tamagi said. “Their ideas are fabulous. The finished product is incredible.

“It is high-end looking, and they’ve done a great job, worked hard, and put it all together in a matter of three or four weeks,” he added.

While the school year is coming to an end, Li said the group is considering keeping the business running through the summer.

For more information, visit Gaia’s website.

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