Thousands of plastic bags are being turned into park benches

It is estimated that it takes around 81,000 plastic bags to reach 1,000 pounds of recyclable plastic—enough to make a bench.

Turning plastic bags into benches is a monumental undertaking, for sure, but one many communities around KC are attempting to do through a recycling program via Trex, a wood-alternative decking and railing company. The benches have been popping up in Kansas City proper and all over the metro, including Belton, Lenexa, Mission, Overland Park, Merriam and Shawnee.

“We are proud to offer a destination and second life for our country’s growing supply of plastic waste,” says Leslie Adkins, Trex’s vice president of marketing. “We hope to lead by example and inspire others to become part of the solution.”

Photography provided.

Kansas City Downtown Lions Club collected enough plastic bags in the past three years to build six benches through the Trex recycling program known as NexTrex. During the spring of 2023, the city of Merriam, Kansas, embarked on a community plastic bag drive and collected enough plastic in four months for two benches. And in Overland Park last year, a fourth grade Girl Scout Troop collected enough bags to earn not only their Eco Friend badge but also a 48-inch Trex bench for the city, too, according to Flatland.

Trex started their recycling program in 2006 in Winchester, Virginia, in an effort to educate students on the importance of recycling. The company’s recycling efforts began by setting up collection bins at local schools but has grown into a nationwide program. A wide variety of plastic materials, including polyethylene film, shopping bags, resealable food storage bags, toilet paper, paper towel packaging and even bubble wrap, are acceptable.

Several years ago, Trex embarked on an initiative to make it easier for people to participate and launched a grassroots campaign to expand its recycling initiative. The new program provides a framework for businesses, universities, nonprofits and other qualifying businesses to serve as centralized drop-off locations for recycling polyethylene plastic film while earning funds for their organization. 

“The Grassroots movement opened the program to smaller but similarly eco-minded groups,” says Stephanie Hicks, material sourcing manager for Trex. 

A large portion of the plastic collected by Trex comes from a network of more than 32,000 grocery stores and retail companies. However, of the five billion pounds collected, nearly two million has been collected by 3,300 community organizations and municipalities. 

Through its various initiatives, Trex has become one of the largest recyclers of plastic film in North America, diverting more than five billion pounds of plastic waste from landfills and waterways over the past 30 years.  

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