It started as a simple challenge: collect 500 pounds of plastic bags within 6 months, and win a bench from Trex Decking Company for a park in Poulsbo. It turned into something else – a community collaboration that has diverted more than 40,000 pounds of plastic from landfills into decks, railings, and furniture.
Poulsbo Rotary Club marked the achievement at its June 8th meeting by acknowledging the key companies, drivers, and volunteers who made it happen.
James Swalwell, Market Director of Central Market, part of the Town & Country Markets family, and Josh Tuttle, manager of Safeway who could not be present, were awarded the “Environmental Hero” Award for their work in accepting and transporting the plastic collected by Rotary Club members. The plaque was created from a reclaimed piece of Trex decking.
“Twenty tons of plastic would be filling up our landfill today if our two community-minded grocery stores had not agreed to accept, transport and bail the plastic we collected,” said Lori Cloutier, Chair of the Poulsbo Rotary Trash Talk Taskforce as she presented the awards.
Jerry Otto, Warehouse Foreman for Columbia Distributing in Poulsbo, was similarly acknowledged for his role in the effort. In 2019 he needed to dispose of 200-300 pounds of pallet wrap per week, but after contacting both Poulsbo Public Works and Kitsap County Solid Waste, he learned that local waste management systems did not have the specialized equipment to recycle the stretchy films, which jam regular sorting equipment.
But Kitsap County Solid Waste employee Eirek O’Neil put Otto in touch with the Trash Talk Taskforce. It responded with an immediate “YES!” before fully realizing the volume involved. “It was like drinking from a fire hose,” said Cloutier.
Enter the efforts of Rotarian volunteers Roger Gallington, Steve Hogg and Ray Donahue, who each began taking weekly truckloads of plastic from Columbia to Central Market and Safeway.
Donahue, the current Rotary Club President and owner of Peninsula Paint Centers, has transported 8,693.3 pounds. Roger Gallington and Steve Hogg, both retired and longtime members of Rotary, have transported 9,355.1 and 13,611.4, respectively.
With the addition of Columbia’s pallet wrap to the plastic bags, bubble wrap, and plastic mailing envelopes already being collected, meeting the minimum 500 pounds to win a bench from Trex Decking Company could be accomplished in just two weeks. Since Trex awards a maximum of one bench per 6-month period, the Rotary Club began sharing its “excess” plastic with other organizations, providing an incentive for them to start programs of their own.
According to Poulsbo Rotary President Ray Donahue, the program’s point is not about the benches. It is about keeping plastic bags and films out of the environment and educating the public about all other items that can be recycled through Trex and similar companies.
Plastic bags and thin film are made of polyethylene, often showing resin codes #2 and #4. They cannot be put into curbside bins or mixed with other recyclables because it jams sorting equipment, filling up the spaces between the sorting teeth and leading to contamination or frequent shutdowns to clear the jams.
Yet the plastic is easy to recycle once it is separated and in the case of Trex Decking, can be mixed with reclaimed wood to create composite decking and building materials.
Grocery stores often collect plastic bags and similar films, sending them back to their distribution centers in otherwise empty delivery trucks. It costs time and labor but cuts the garbage fees.
But when stores like Safeway and Central Market accept clean and dry plastic film from the public, they provide essential community service and environmental gain.
“We’re thrilled to receive the ‘Environmental Hero’ award and have the opportunity to partner with Poulsbo Rotary to collect and divert plastic film for re-use in the construction of Trex decking, railing, and furniture products,” said Swalwell. “Our longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and its impact on our communities makes it easy to say “yes” to joining events like these that bring people and businesses together to do good. It’s exciting to see the powerful outcomes of Rotary programs.”
What Plastic Bags and Film are Accepted?
Plastic grocery bags, overwrap, newspaper sleeves, bubble wrap, plastic mailers, and produce bags are all acceptable. A good rule of thumb is that it should be landfilled if you can’t stretch it with your thumb. Unexpected no-no’s are frozen food bags, and cling wraps like Syran, which feel like pallet wrap, but have problematic additives, For a complete list: https://recycle.trex.com/view/educate#materials1
Also recognized at the ceremony were Duane Edwards and Jim Davidson, both of Poulsbo who served as backup drivers, local high school students, and Harlan Harris and Jim Schlachter, both of whom Poulsbo helped with bench assembly and placement.