No ideas wasted in hunting down plastic

  • Merrimack Valley High School students Emmaleigh Stinson, Alyssa Ishii, Samantha Kimball, Taylor Davis and Rachel Bast helped run a Key Club project that turned plastic bags into a bench. Eileen O'Grady / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/12/2022 5:45:35 PM

A project that started with a group of high school students collecting plastic bags last spring has blossomed into a large-scale community environmental effort to reduce local waste from single-use plastics.

This spring, students in Merrimack Valley High School’s Key Club collected pounds of plastic bags which they sent to be recycled by a Virginia company. In return, they received a bench made from recycled plastic, which will be unveiled to the students by members of the Capital City Sunrise Rotary Club on Tuesday.

It was Rotary Club members who first had the idea for the project late last year. They had heard about a plastic waste recycling program run by the Virginia-based composite deck company Trex, where schools and organizations can collect and send in pounds of polyethylene film waste within a six-month period for the chance to receive a bench made from the recycled plastics. The Rotary Club sought the help of the Key Club in January to help make the project happen.

The students said they felt daunted at first when they heard the Rotary Club’s goal – gather 500 pounds of plastic bag waste in six months. The Key Club was just starting to re-establish itself as a new extra-curricular after the last Key Club folded during COVID-19.

“We did not think we would be able to make it at all,” said Samantha Kimball, Merrimack Valley High School senior and Key Club member. “We didn’t think we’d have as much clout and influence over the student body.”

The students placed cardboard cartons in different locations around the school, and urged their peers to bring in their family’s plastic bag waste from home to contribute. Periodically, the Rotary Club members would come to collect the cartons.

“It was really crazy to see how many bags we accumulated,” said Rachel Bast, Merrimack Valley High School senior and Key Club member. “We weighed them a couple times, the big bins, and it was surprising. You wouldn’t think it, but they add up.”

Capital City Sunrise Rotary president-elect Philip Nadeau estimates the students collected about 80 pounds of plastic bag waste over a three-month span.

To supplement Merrimack Valley’s waste collection, the Rotary Club partnered with Grappone Automotive Group, which agreed to donate the leftover plastic seat coverings that are used when shipping their new cars, instead of throwing it away. The industrial waste vastly eclipsed the individual household waste and soon, Nadeau said, they were receiving about 100 pounds of plastic from Grappone every two weeks. Banks Chevrolet-Cadillac donated plastic waste as well.

“We were inundated with plastic. It just took off,” Nadeau said. “It was wonderful, but it was so much that we were at our club meetings asking people, ‘does anybody have a pickup truck?’”

Rotary Club members brought the plastic to a warehouse at Hannaford on Fort Eddy Road, one of Trex’s partner companies. From there, the plastic was shipped to Trex in Virginia for recycling. They surpassed their 500-pound quota in just a few months and Trex shipped a recycled plastic bench back to the Capital City Sunrise Rotary Club.

“It has been an overwhelming success. So much so that we are recommending this to anyone who would listen,” Nadeau said. He plans to speak about the project at the Rotary Club annual district conference in Vermont in November.

Rotary Club members will officially gift the bench to the Merrimack Valley High School Key Club in a private ceremony on Tuesday. The students will decide where to place the bench.

In August, the Rotary Club started another six months of plastic collection, and members have already gathered almost 300 pounds. Nadeau says the Rotary Club would love to work with more school groups on the project in the future.

The students say it’s a project they’ll remember.

“I feel like I’m more conscious about the amount of waste I’m producing,” Kimball said. “I think that just made me conscious of the actions that I can do to prevent myself from producing like that much waste.”


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



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