Bags to Riches
Dickinson adds plastic bag collection to campus recycling program
by Christine Baksi
November 15, 2011
"We wanted to recycle plastic bags and thought others would, too, so we just decided to make it happen," says Eco-Reps supervisor Dani Thompson '12, pictured swimming in a sea of plastic bags that she and Eco-Reps rescued from local landfills.
When consumers choose between paper or plastic, the environment loses every time. The Natural Resources Defense Council says it takes 14 million trees to produce a year’s worth of paper bags, while yearly production of plastic bags requires 12 million barrels of oil. That information doesn’t sit well with Dickinson’s Eco-Reps, so they are taking action.
Dickinson is adding to its comprehensive single-stream campus recycling program that includes paper, metals, glass, plastics and cardboard, by collecting plastic bags for recycling. The new program is being spearheaded by the Eco-Reps, resident students who mentor and educate their peers about sustainable living habits and sustainability initiatives at the college.
“I feel lucky to go to a college that places such a high priority on sustainability,” says Eco-Reps supervisor and environmental-studies major Dani Thompson ’12. “The Eco-Reps further this goal by giving environmentally conscious students who live on campus the ability to not only voice their observation on how residents can live more sustainably, but to act on their observations and make their visions of change a reality.”
Lindsey Lyons, assistant director of the Center for Sustainability Education (CSE), oversees the Eco-Reps program and says the students take their roles seriously. “Our Eco-Reps are always looking for ways to make a difference on campus and in the world,” she says. “They educate their peers to reduce the use of plastic bags, reuse them if they have them and recycle them when they get too many. The student body has been receptive to learning about this issue and making the small behavioral changes that it takes to make the program a success.”
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Plastic bags are being collected at more than 20 campus locations, including residence halls, and delivered weekly to Giant Food Stores as part of its Bags to Benches recycling program. Giant works with Trex Company of Winchester, Va., the country’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking materials, where Trex makes the plastic bags into park benches.
Since plastic bags are thermoplastic, bales of bags are capable of being repeatedly softened by heat and hardened by cooling and molded into different shapes. According to Giant's Bags to Benches Web site, it takes about 10,000 plastic bags to make a park bench.
GIANT has donated more than 1,300 benches to help beautify local communities. Lyons hopes to someday see Trex benches on campus. “I’m excited at the potential of bringing a piece of this recycled furniture to campus to show students how the process works and build morale around the project,” she says. “This program helps us reinforce the message within our community that the best option is to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic bags.”
CSE and the Eco-Reps encourage all campus offices to collect plastic bags. Simply designate a box or container, post a sign and ask a volunteer to bring the collection to the HUB. For more information, contact CSE at 717-245-1781.