A bags to benches story
Local boy scouts collect grocery bags to create park additions
story by Jessica Blomquist
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
It’s a habit common in homes across America. Plastic bags overflow from beneath kitchen counters, hang by the bagful in pantries, and are stuffed beneath the kitchen sink - a perverse collection from countless grocery shopping trips waiting to be put to use. Worse still is the number of plastic bags that consumers simply throw away.
The average American family of four uses 1,500 plastic bags each year, according to "The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook." And only one percent of the estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags used every year are recycled. The remaining bags, which end up in landfills, can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
But don’t start feeling guilty just yet. One Madison group is making an impact against these statistics by putting those stored up plastic bags to good use.
Madison Boy Scouts of America Pack 91, led by Den Leader Nancy Brock of Buckhead, in partnership with the Trex Company of Winchester, Va., will be collecting plastic bags for the next year in exchange for composite lumber made from recycled plastic, reclaimed wood chips and sawdust.
Those boards will then be donated to the Morgan County Parks and Recreation Department, made into benches, and placed in parks throughout the county, said Bill Wood, recreation director for Morgan County.
“We don’t know where they would go at this point,” Wood said. “There are a lot of options.”
Those options include both Hill and Heritage Parks, as well as the 60-acre park in development on Spears Road.
The final number of benches will depend on how many boards the recreation department receives from Trex. Once the troop’s plastic bags are delivered, Trex will quantify the bags based on type and color, and will ship a comparable amount of lumber back to the recreation department.
When Brock chose the project, she thought that the boys would benefit from a more hands-on approach to the recycling lesson they learned at a den meeting.
“It’s good for boys this age to learn about recycling,” Brock said.
“It’s where you reuse something,” nine-year-old Matthew Wright said, defining recycling.
In addition to helping teach environmental responsibility and keeping plastic bags out of landfills, this project is also one of the requirements the boys must complete to earn the World Conservation Award, signified on their uniform by a tan circular patch with a panda bear.
The pack consists of 85 boys, including Brock’s eight-year-old son Reid. Those boys are divided among seven different dens based on either age or grade in school, first through fifth grade.
After contacting Trex, Brock found out that in order to make 50 boards, which would make eight complete benches, they would need to collect 65,000 bags.
“If each child saved 1,000 bags, we’d beat the 65,000,” Brock says, though she has not set a specific goal for the project.
Though the project is still in its initial stages, Brock already has four large garbage bags containing between 85 and 200 plastic bags each stored in her dining room.
Brock chose the project after reading an article in the Athens Banner Herald about a similar project completed in Athens, Ga. Recently, the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department’s Recycling Division organized the Bags for Bears project, which lasted from October 2007 to January 2008 in Athens.
Area school children have collected plastic bags twice in the past two years, said Suki Janssen, waste reduction administrator for the recycling division. Last year, the eleven participating schools collected a total of 396,561 bags, which were used to make benches for the schools. The second project’s lumber was used to build playscapes for the bears, otters, and bobcats in Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail in Memorial Park in Athens. And this time, the students collected 8.2 tons of plastic, which was more than twice their goal of 405,000 for the project.
“It was hugely successful,” Janssen said.
The company working with both the Athens and Madison groups is the award-winning Trex Company. Trex, is the oldest and largest maker of composite lumber made from recycled materials in the United States, said Dave Heglas, director of material resources for the company.
Trex sponsors many community projects in Virginia, Georgia, and areas in the northeast. In the last year and a half, the company has focused on teaching students about recycling.
“What we’re really trying to do is increase public awareness on the ease of recycling plastic bags,” Heglas said.
Last year, Trex recycled 1.5 billion plastic bags, turning them into boards made from 98 percent recycled plastic and reclaimed wood. This composite lumber combines the best qualities of the two materials to create a better product than that made from either material singularly.
The wood in the boards creates a natural wood appearance, while also protecting the plastic from UV damage. The plastic component of the lumber prevents the splintering and rotting common in wood benches and protects the wood from damage from moisture and insects.
Trex accepts all No. 2 and No. 4 plastic grocery bags as well as newspaper bags, dry cleaner bags, plastic packaging from toilet paper and paper towels, and stretch film used to wrap pallets of product.
Plastic bag donations can be made at the Scout Hut, located behind the 911 Building and the courthouse. Brock requests that bags be stored in larger plastic bags with the enclosed number of bags written on the outside.
Storing plastic bags beneath the sink no longer has to be shameful. Just donate them to the Cub Scouts and the bags can finally be put to use in a way that will provide for the community.