UMSL takes steps to address problem of plastic bags on America Recycles Day

by | Nov 18, 2021

UMSL is hosting a bench made from recycled plastic bags throughout the month of November as part of OneSTL's Bags2Bench Tour.
Students sit on a bench made from recycled plastic bags outside the Millennium Student Center

Students sit on a bench made from recycled plastic bags. The bench is spending the month of November outside the Millennium Student Center as part of OneSTL’s Bags2Bench Tour, which is bringing the bench to nine campuses around the St. Louis region throughout the 2021-22 academic year. (Photo courtesy of Katy Mike Smaistrla)

Monday was America Recycles Day, and University of Missouri–St. Louis Sustainability Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla used the occasion to make a plea to the community to use reusable bags when shopping at the grocery store and return used plastic bags to stores to be properly recycled.

UMSL Sustainability Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla conducts an interview on a bench outside the Millennium Student Center

UMSL Sustainability Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla conducts an interview with KMOV (Channel 4) on America Recycles Day while seated on a bench made from recycled bags. The bench is spending the month of November outside the Millennium Student Center as part of the OneSTL’s Bags2Bench Tour. (Screenshot)

“When they end up in the recycling stream, they tend to gum up the system or contaminate the recyclables,” Smaistrla said during an interview Monday with KMOV (Channel 4). “We’d really like to keep our recycling stream clean as possible, so those materials can be made into new objects.”

When properly recycled, the bags themselves can be used to make new things, including the bench Smaistrla was sitting on while conducting the interview on the patio outside the Millennium Student Center.

Students at Ranken Technical College built the bench from Trex composite lumbar – enough of it to contain approximately 13,500 recycled plastic bags.

“This plastic lumber is very durable,” Smaistrla said. “It can be made into decking, chairs, all kinds of things.”

She was excited to show off the bench outside the MSC at UMSL this month as part of the Bags2Bench Tour, a regional educational campaign sponsored by OneSTL intended to demonstrate the impact of recycling plastic bags and wraps.

The tour has already included stops for the bench at Washington University in St. Louis and Maryville University, and it will make its way to the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy, Saint Louis University, Ranken Technical College, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Webster University and St. Louis Community College’s Wildwood campus over the next six months.

Funding for the traveling bench tour and the Recycle Responsibly project is provided by the St. Louis-Jefferson Solid Waste Management District and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“I think it’s one of the easiest things that we can do as consumers is just to bring your own bags,” Smaistrla said. “Leave them in your car, your backpack, your purse, and then when you go into the store, just decline to take a plastic bag because you’ve got your own.”

UMSL kicked off a plastic bag recycling program on campus on Monday, and Smaistrla and sustainability student assistants led a workshop to help campus community make their own reusable bags on Monday afternoon in the MSC.

“Students are excited,” Smaistrla said. “I think they’re really looking forward to talking more about the problems with plastic. It’s something that young people are very much aware of.”

Media Coverage
KMOV (Channel 4)

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