Just before Sandpiper Elementary School started summer break, students had one more reason to celebrate: The school was named one of 41 regional winners of this year’s Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge.
“We were definitely very excited when we found out we won,” said Heidi Winden, sixth-grade English teacher at Sandpiper Elementary School. “Because of the year we’ve had with COVID restrictions and things like that, I didn’t know how much of a competition it would be with other schools participating.”
For about eight months amid the pandemic, students at Sandpiper were busy amassing 592 pounds of recycled plastic film through classroom challenges and community outreach.
“The Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge presents students with an opportunity to play an active role in preserving our environment and their future by learning the value of recycling,” said Stephanie Hicks, materials sourcing manager for Trex Company.
Celebrating its 14th year, the Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge is a nationwide program that challenges students in grades K-12 to collect and recycle the most polyethylene plastic film for the chance to win high-performance Trex products for their schools.
Sandpiper, along with the rest of the winning schools, won a Trex bench made of 95 percent recycled materials – reclaimed wood scrap and polyethylene plastic film from industrial packaging – and a variety of common household items such as grocery bags, newspaper sleeves and bubble wrap.
“They were thrilled,” Winden said of winning. “They’re excited to find a new home for [the bench] on campus and already started brainstorming ideas as to where they think it needs to go.”
So far, ideas include placing the bench in the kindergarten area or in the playground.
“We had a few students who thought it would be really good by one of our trees in the back playground area to make it kind of like a buddy bench, if you will, where they can sit, have conversations with a buddy or just take a rest,” Winden said.
In the previous school year, Sandpiper placed third in the challenge even after joining the competition late.
“And we were thrilled about that,” Winden said. “So, this year, I was like, OK, we’re going to start right from the start and continue collecting – and it’s taken off from there.”
The students started collecting in August and the last day of the competition took place on Earth Day.
Trex supplies detailed instructions, promotional materials, recycling bins and a list of qualifying recyclable materials, ranging from plastic grocery bags to bubble wrap.
Students then report their collection totals each month to Trex before delivering the materials to designated drop-off points in their communities.
“The easy-to-implement program inspires students to develop eco-conscious habits while engaging in a fun, friendly competition that benefits their local communities and schools,” Hicks said.
Sandpiper parents played a big role in the challenge, too, from getting the word out via email newsletters to posting on social media.
“That’s one thing Sandpiper does really well is our community involvement and getting all stakeholders involved,” Winden said.
“Everyone’s wanting to make sure we continue even collecting during the summer months so that we’re ready to go for next year again,” she added.
Sandpiper’s recycling efforts extend beyond the Trex challenge.
Throughout the school year, teachers recycle used school supplies, like dead markers, in recycling bins placed on campus.
The student council group, which Winden oversees, also educates their fellow students on how to recycle properly. “They take a lot of ownership,” Winden said.
As part of the challenge, Winden said the students learned important lessons about recycling, including how recycled items can be reused and how often they use recyclable materials.
“Especially with this [challenge], they really realized how much plastic they actually use on a daily basis. It surprised quite a few of them,” Winden said.
“Trex continually looks for opportunities to help increase awareness and appreciation for the importance of recycling,” said Dave Heglas, senior director of materials management for Trex Company.
“Thanks to the dedication of these bright, dedicated students, Trex is able to divert hundreds of thousands of tons of discarded plastic film from ending up in oceans and landfills each year by repurposing it into beautiful, sustainable Trex decking.”
The next Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge kicks off on America Recycles Day, Nov. 15, and will conclude the next Earth Day, April 22.
Over the past five months, students from 271 schools collected a combined total of 129,568 pounds of plastic film waste.
“We’re just continuing into next year and maybe we can win again,” Winden said.