Gilbert-area schools teamed with the East Valley Recycling Alliance, including the town of Gilbert, TREX and Bashas’ grocery stores, to “Bench the Bag” — a contest to collect soft plastic bags that can cause havoc to recycling machinery when placed in blue recycling containers.
On April 22, Penny Minkalis was at Benjamin Franklin Charter School to honor a few students from that school.
“You all did a great job collecting bags,” she said, “but a couple of your students exceeded expectations.”
Among those students were Brooklyn Montgomery, Kiriko Westover, and Amber Tingue, who was by far the largest individual contributor to the bag drive across all 26,000-plus participants. She collected more than 6,000 bags, which was nearly 20 times the average student.
When asked how she gathered so many bags, Tingue responded, “I started by going door to door throughout my neighborhood and just asking for any bags I could get,” she said. “After that my sister, Autumn, and I asked local businesses if we could solicit their customers for their recyclable bags and several companies agreed to let us do so.”
Between Feb. 1 and March 28, 19 Gilbert-area schools collected 827,362 grocery bags and other soft film plastics totaling over six tons in weight. No longer destined for the landfill, the plastics have become a sought-after commodity that can be used to create new products including clothing and faux wood. Collectively, more than 70 schools in six municipalities collected approximately 15 tons of soft plastics — aiding the long-term sustainability of community landfills.
Benjamin Franklin Elementary Principal Diana Dana addressed her students and their efforts at the school ceremony.
“You all should be proud of your efforts,” she said. “You continued to collect up to the very last day and never stopped believing you could win the contest.”
Although Benjamin Franklin is half the size of the winning school it gave a very close race to Imagine West.
Imagine West of Gilbert was the winning school, collecting 1,761 pounds, or 3.24 pounds, for every student enrolled. In recognition of Imagine West’s significant achievement, the school will receive a TREX bench made of recycled plastics. Power Ranch Elementary and Augusta Ranch Elementary also received an honorable mention for the high volume collected.
The idea of the program was to raise awareness for recycling among all age groups to promote a healthier environment. From the turnout of this year’s group effort, it looks as though giant steps have been taken towards that cause.
“It’s really nice to see all the school’s efforts for this contest,” Dana said, “but everyone has to know that true recycling has to become a way of life, if we want to see a change.”
• Gilbert resident Dwayne Burns is active in his community. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.