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Iowa is turning plastic bags into park benches

| July 15, 2014

You’ve heard of from rags to riches, but what about from bags to benches?

Plastic bags are a notorious bane of the environmental landscape, but they’re receiving exciting new life thanks to an innovative program in Iowa. Iowa isn’t typically considered a standout national leader when it comes to recycling. Iowans recycle 1.2 million tons of material per year, which places them somewhere in the “mid to high” ranking nationally, but we don’t read as many articles about their efforts as we do about efforts in New York City or San Francisco.

And, yet, perhaps we should be paying more attention. “Build With Bags” is a collaborative effort that’s gaining increasing recognition. And when we say collaborative, we mean it. The Iowa Grocery Industry Association, Keep Iowa Beautiful, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Metro Waste Authority, City Carton Recycling, and The Des Moines Register all have a hand in the initiative.

plastic bags

This bench is made from plastic bags. From Iowa Grocery Industry Association.

Build With Bags collects plastic bags (the kind used at grocery stores) and other recycle material and turns them into valuable community assets. These assets include playground equipment, speed bumps, park tables, and—yes—park benches.

The program actually provides grants to purchase assets that have been made out of recycled plastic bags, which incentivizes partner organizations to actually collect and recycle those bags.

The economic component is critical. According to the Build With Bags website, “This economic driver is often what is missing in other efforts aimed at reducing environmental impacts of products and services.”

The people behind Build With Bags position the initiative as a “meaningful alternative” to bag bans. We found this to be a particularly interesting point, since we’ve written at length about bag bans going into effect in other major metropolitan areas. The Build With Bags website mentions that reducing consumption of plastic bags is a major component of the initiative, but it doesn’t go into detail about how they actually reduce consumption. Instead, it seems that the primary impact is responsible, creative (and well-funded) methods of reusing bags that would otherwise be used for ten minutes to carry a carton of milk home and then end up in a landfill for (approximately) eternity.

According to a recent feature on Iowa Public Radio, tens of thousands of plastic bags can go into one park bench. That’s a lot of landfill diversion—not to mention an awfully nice place for a rest.

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Category: Blog Landing Page, Plastic, Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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