Bench the Bag

Three days worth of bags collected by Hopi Elementary, ready to be recycled by Trex.

This year marked the 12th annual plastic recycling competition that took place at elementary and middle schools around the nation. This is the 6th year that Scottsdale schools have participated in the Trex recycling competition.

Sponsored nationally by Virginia-based Trex Company and locally by the Scottsdale Solid Waste Company, this competition challenged students to collect as much plastic film as they could between February and March. 

The school that collected the most will receive a composite bench (made from recycled plastic) donated by Trex. Each year the winner is announced on Earth Day (April 22). Trex started their recycling program in 2006 as a way to educate the public about the damage that plastic can do and to encourage people to properly recycle. The company, which uses recycled plastic to make decking boards, recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. 

Thin film plastic is one of the biggest contaminants in recycling. It can damage the automated equipment at the facility where recyclables are sorted. Students were asked to collect plastic items such as grocery bags, Saran wrap, cereal bags, Ziploc bags, newspaper sleeves and bubble wrap and bring it to their school. This year, both Hopi Elementary and Echo Canyon participated. 

Each week, a City of Scottsdale representative visited each school to weigh and pick up collected materials and took them to be recycled. 

“All of our students participated and came together and helped make a difference in our world,” said Blanca Ruiz-Moreno, the community specialist at Echo Canyon. At the end of the competition, they had collected just over 300 lbs. of plastic.

Teachers Jacqueline Comerford, Kelsey Wolf and Whitney Keeler run an after-school club called the Hopi Environmental Leaders and one of the group’s focuses is the “Bench the Bag” competition. 

The group continues to promote awareness about how long it takes for plastic materials to decompose, and how much of it can end up in the ocean. 

“At Hopi we have not treated it like a competition. It is more about being part of the solution to a problem. And our community really gets behind it. We collected so much plastic. Hopi plans to continue the collection of plastic this year, so we can continue being part of the solution,” said Keeler. Hopi Elementary collected over 330 lbs. of plastic.

The Trex Company utilizes donated plastic film to create composite lumber, keeping this material out of landfills. Trex provided each school with a poster, magnets for each student and an award made from Trex decking boards. 

All ten participating SUSD schools collected over 5,800 lbs. of plastic material. The schools received a collected plastics flower planter from Trex. Nationwide, the school that collected the most will receive a composite bench, made from 10,000 pieces of plastic film.