Schools reach new ‘bench’ mark

Published 10:16 pm Thursday, May 7, 2009

Four Suffolk Public Schools received some pretty special new seats Thursday afternoon.

Representatives from the city of Suffolk and the Trex Company delivered new benches to Nansemond River High School, Kilby Shores Elementary School, Kings Fork Middle School and Turlington Woods School.

The four schools were the top participants in the system’s plastic bag recycling drive. Students brought grocery bags to recycle, and the bags were shipped to the Trex Company, which uses the recycled plastic along with recycled wood to make furniture such as benches, decks and fences.

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This year, students from across the city brought in more than 222,000 bags.

It takes about 3,000 bags to make one bench.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Chad Oxton, an engineering data technician for the city of Suffolk, who spearheaded the drive. “It’s been overwhelmingly successful and positive.”

In the first week of the drive, the participating schools brought in 7,400 bags. Many would think that support for the project would taper off as the drive continued on, but that was not the case.

In the drive’s second week, students brought in 11,000 bags. By the end of the drive, the weekly average for bags was 15,800.

“It obviously picked up steam and held its own all the way through to the end,” Oxton said. He added that the success of the program was indicative of the support the it had from the school’s administration and staff.

“At every level, it was encouraged, and it was made to feel like it was the norm to bring in plastic bags,” he said. “They got down to the homerooms and having homeroom teachers sort of make it competitive for the grade levels. They all did a really good job; it was a really cool deal.”

Oxton said that Kilby Shores and Kings Fork were the two highest contributors, but some of the biggest surprises came from the less-populated schools. For example, Turlington Woods has only about 70 students, but the school averaged 104 bags donated for every student. Similarly, Southwestern Elementary School placed third overall, but had the highest bags-per-student ratio, with each student bringing approximately 138 bags.

Amanda Harrington, the recycling promotions coordinator for Trex, said this program is brought to school systems around the country and each time the schools are “eager” to bring in the bags.

“Schools are always very eager, once they’re involved and learn about the program,” Harrington said. “All over, the schools take to this program very well, especially now with the idea of going green. A lot of people didn’t know you can recycle plastic bags or grocery bags as easily as you can. Knowing that, they’re even more eager to jump on board. The enthusiasm is awesome.”

The schools will participate in the program again next year. It will launch in November and carry through until April.