The “Bench the Bag” competition was the brainchild of the nonprofit East Valley Recycling Alliance. The Alliance, composed of a group of recycling and waste management professionals from municipalities throughout Arizona’s Southeast Valley, is constantly striving to find new and inventive ways to get people in their communities involved in projects that help eliminate waste and increase recycling in Arizona.

Bench the Bag is one of those programs. Pitting schools in Tempe, Chandler, Gilver, Queen Creek, Mesa and Scottsdale against each other in a head-to-head competition to see who can collect and properly dispose of the most plastic bags and wraps. After collection, the bags will be donated to Trex, a company in Winchester, VA., where they will be recycled into decking, railing and outdoor furniture. The school that collects the most bags in each municipality will win the competition and a custom-built bench from Trex made entirely from the donated bags.
The idea for the competition arose when members of the Alliance were discussing different ways to raise awareness about the recyclability of plastic bags. While plastic bags are recyclable, they cannot simply be disposed of in normal recycling bins because they tend to clog recycling machinery. The competition is designed to mobilize, engage and educate students so that they understand the proper way to dispose of plastic bags.

You teach them and they teach the whole family, and students at a very young age, they are really probably the group that we’re really striving to reach because they are open to new ideas and new ways to help reduce the waste that we are creating,” said Lucy Morales, the Alliance member who led the project.

Morales believes that the friendly competition created by the project would make the students more engaged and increase their interest in the project’s goals. Once the project is approved it could help keep thousands of plastic bags and wraps from filling up Arizona’s landfills, while also engaging and educating the future generation on important techniques for waste reduction in the future.

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