Kean University students have gathered 430 pounds of plastic garbage, including bubble wrap, pallet wrap, and single-use plastic bags, in four months.
Trex will donate a recycled plastic bench to their campus if they collect 70 pounds more this spring.
Last September, Kean environmental science and sustainability professor Will Heyniger created the Trex Recycling Challenge.
“This project permits kids to enhance their awareness of the volume of plastic the globe generates and helps alleviate the plastic waste issue,” Heiniger added.
In 2006, Trex, which creates recycled outdoor products, launched its recycling challenge to schools and communities.
The company says institutions have six months to collect 500 pounds of plastic bags and film (polyethylene films or plastic that can be stretched) and receive an eco-friendly Trex bench if they do.
Heiniger, Kean’s project director, said students can have a free repurposed bench until February.
The Kean University professor’s 100 students from four class sections collected about 430 pounds of plastic debris by mid-December.
Trex measuring units estimate 72 30-gallon trash bags filled with plastic.
Heiniger, who stores, weighs, tracks, and delivers plastic to a local Trex drop-off location, said his 75 spring semester students will resume the effort this month.
National Geographic reports that Americans buy enough plastic film to shrink-wrap Texas annually.
The World Health Organization advises against recycling thin plastic films, such as plastic bags, newspaper sleeves, dry-cleaning bags, and produce bags, in curbside bins because it clogs recycling machinery and releases harmful chemicals in landfills or incinerators.
Instead, drop off these plastics at Walmart, Shoprite, Target, and Kohls’s.
Daniela Shebitz, chair of Kean’s Department of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences, said the plastic trash project has raised students’ awareness of plastic consumption and recycling.
“When kids are confronted with a challenge such as this, they take it upon themselves to not only break the cycle of single-use plastic dependency but also to become advocates in convincing friends, family and others to avoid throwing stuff away,” Shebitz said.
Seitz added, “We need to learn from this effort, not just as inhabitants of this fragile planet, but as scientists trying to construct a more sustainable future.
After the “spark was lighted,” kids saw this effort as a kind of awareness and activism, got their family and friends engaged, and the momentum only expanded, Heyniger added.
The neighborhood card and gift store where Union County University student Katelyn Walsh works generate the most plastic trash from bubble wrap and plastic bags.
Walsh says she sometimes brings so much to school that other students help her carry stuff to Kean’s George Hennings Hall, where Heyniger’s office has a drop box.
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Morgan Douglas, a Kean student, hauled in lots of plastic thanks to her big box store girlfriend.
“When she said I was collecting plastic for class, her boss offered to load up my car with bubble wrap and the plastic bags companies package their items with,” Douglas added. “I made two visits of four enormous bags each because they didn’t fit in my car.”
Another Kean student donates pallet wrap since his family’s firm shares a warehouse with a large palletized goods receiver. Heiniger says some kids bring in the plastic debris they understand they produce.
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Ziploc bags are approved for the challenge, although Heyniger warns his students to only bring them in when they are disposable.
Heiniger noted the difference between disposable and reusable is mental awareness. He said Ziploc bags and hot, soapy water can be reused until they rip or leak.
Once Kean begins courses on Jan. 17, the race reaches 500 pounds of plastic waste by February will begin.