Welding students share their ‘LOVE’ for recycling

Published 5:16 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

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When instructor Tom Shirk invited members of his high school welding program to collaborate on a special assignment, they really put their heart into it. 

Shirk and students from Suffolk Public Schools’ College and Career Academy at Pruden unveiled the 8-foot by 5-foot LOVE sign on Earth Day with the team that commissioned the artwork— askHRgreen.org and TFC Recycling. 

The “reveal” took place Saturday, April 22, during the Suffolk Earth and Arts Festival. In the months to follow, organizers will take the sign on a regional tour to city and county locations across Hampton Roads.  

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Using welded materials to spell out the word LOVE, with a heart-shaped O, the see-through structure is brimming with recyclable beverage cans and plastic bottles, according to an askHRgreen.org news release. This winning design was selected following askHRgreen.org’s call for artists to develop a dynamic, traveling Virginia LOVE sign to complement its “Start Smart, Recycle Right” public awareness campaign. 

“We loved Mr. Shirk’s idea for the sign to be created as a classroom welding project, and that students would design and construct it,” said Katie Cullipher, an askHRgreen.org team leader. “We were also drawn to their concept to create space within the artwork to contain recyclable materials.”


Putting it together 

The welding students began work on the LOVE sign in January. Its design and construction complemented state-mandated work standards for welding that included stick, Mig and Tig welding, as well as oxy/fuel and plasma cutting. 

“The LOVE project for askHRgreen.org was an amazing opportunity for the students to apply the welding techniques they learned in the classroom,” said Shirk. “They operated with such confidence in their abilities, and the students understood what the project was about—recycling bottles and cans.”

In addition, class members collected the recyclable items to fill the empty welded structure. That was music to the ears of Michael Benedetto, president and chief executive officer of TFC Recycling. 

“The students’ thoughtful approach to the design and execution of the LOVE sign reflects what our ‘Start Smart, Recycle Right’ message is all about,” said Benedetto. “The aim is to start smart by knowing which items are accepted for recycling in your community, and then to recycle right by making sure these items are empty, clean and dry before placing them out for recycling.” 

As part of the LOVE sign project, askHRgreen.org and TFC Recycling provided the College and Career Academy at Pruden with a $2,500 stipend to cover costs for materials, along with additional recyclable materials to complete the sculpture. 

The cities following the reveal will include:Suffolk in May, Portsmouth in June, Newport News in July, Norfolk in August, Virginia Beach in September, Gloucester in October, James City County in November and York County in December. For details about the LOVE sculpture and schedule locations of its regional tour, visit askhrgreen.org/recycling-is-for-lovers/. 

The public is encouraged to post pictures of the LOVE sign to social media using hashtag #RecyclingIsForLovers.