Schools challenged to collect plastic bags for recycling

Published Oct 12, 2018 at 4:00pm

Schools throughout the Mohawk Valley can win either a visit from the Utica Zoo Zoomobile or a visit from DJs at KISS-FM radio by recycling the most plastic bags in this year’s Plastic Film Recycling Challenge sponsored by the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority and recycler Trex Company.

The challenge is open to all public and private k-12 schools in Oneida and Herkimer counties. It runs from Nov. 15-Dec. 21. The deadline to register is Nov. 1.

Schools will compete against each other to collect the most plastic film per capita. A school volunteer will weigh and record the amount of plastic film collected each week. The school volunteer will also deliver the collected plastic film to a participating retailer.

The winning elementary school gets a visit from the Zoomobile. The winning middle or high school gets a live remote broadcast from KISS-FM.

The challenge is an effort to increase awareness and involvement in recycling plastic-film bags. The average American family uses 1,500 single-use plastic bags each year, and only 12 percent are recovered for recycling, according to the authority. In all 100 billion single-use plastic bags were used nationwide in 2014.

Curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic film.

“They get wound and tangled around our sorting equipment,” said Jamie Tuttle, recycling educator for the authority. The bags are also prone to holding rainwater and snow if they’re left out in curbside bins, and they also often drift into other recyclable materials, contaminating them so they’re not accepted by recycling companies.

“We don’t always have clear, dry material so we can’t produce an end material that’s a quality that the markets want,” Tuttle added.

“The ultimate goal is to encourage people to use reusable bags.”

Since 2009, a New York state law has required collection of bags by retailers of a certain size and who provide such bags to take them for recycling. The law applies to stores of 10,000 square feet or more and by chains with five more stores of 5,000 square feet or more.

Last year, 16 schools took part in the Oneida-Herkimer challenge, collecting more than 5,700 pounds of film, the equivalent of almost a half-million plastic grocery bags.

The following items cannot be placed in your curbside recycling bin, but can be recycled at local grocery stores and through the Plastic Film Recycling Challenge: Grocery bags; bread bags; case overwrap; dry cleaning bags; newspaper sleeves; ice bags; wood pellet bags; Ziploc and other reclosable bags; produce bags; bubble wrap; salt sags and cereal bags