A Waukegan Park District employee processes a bag of plastic bags for the NexTrex Recycling Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District) - Original Credit: News-Sun

Collecting plastic bags used in grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses, the Waukegan Park District is once again trying to gather 500 pounds of the sacks to turn them into a bench at one of the city’s many parks.

Quincy Bejster, the director of parks, said a year ago the Park District participated in the NexTrex Recycling Challenge, collected the bags and earned the free bench made from recycled bags. It will be installed at the new Discovery Dock at Bevier Park.

“This is a great opportunity to repurpose plastic bags,” Bejster said. “It supports the Park District’s green initiative and helps the environment by recycling the bags. They are hard to recycle.”

A Waukegan Park District employee processes a bag of plastic bags for the NexTrex Recycling Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District)- Original Credit: News-Sun
A Waukegan Park District employee processes a bag of plastic bags for the NexTrex Recycling Challenge. (Photo courtesy of Waukegan Park District)– Original Credit: News-Sun

The Waukegan Park District and community partners are currently in the process of gathering plastic bags at four locations in Waukegan to reach the 500-pound goal by March 31.

Lali Salinas, the parks department coordinator, said as of Monday, 346 pounds had been collected and she is confident the goal will be reached. Some of the collected sacks are waiting to be weighed.

Participating in the challenge for the second consecutive year, Salinas said it took approximately 37,500 bags to reach the 500-pound goal last year. Each must be checked before it is taken to a drop-off location at a grocery store in Gurnee.

“Each one is checked to make sure it is clean,” Salinas said. “They (may) have to be cleaned. There can be no food residue and no stickers, nothing sticky.”

People who want to contribute to the effort can bring plastic bags to either the Park District’s Field House Sports, Fitness & Aquatics Center between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.

Bags can also be deposited at the Jack Benny Center for the Arts in Bowen Park between 3 and 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, as well as between 9 a.m. and noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

Along with the Park District facilities, Salinas said Natalie Vanlaningham’s fifth-grade class at Whittier Elementary School is making it a class project. The First United Methodist Church is also collecting bags.

Vanlaningham said in an email her students are learning about the environment and ways to protect the Earth. They sought potential projects and learned about the Park District’s bag collection effort. Salinas brought a collection bin to the school to get students started.

“My students proposed we make posters and create public service announcements to inform our school community about the plastic collection,” Vanlaningham said in the email. “Just a few days into our partnership, our collection bin is almost full.”

Waukegan Township Trustee Dulce Ortiz, a co-founder of Clean Power Lake County, said in a text she is pleased with the recycling effort and the fact it will keep items like the plastic bags out of landfills.

“The Park District’s Plastic Recycling Challenge is a great initiative and I applaud their efforts in ensuring a sustainable future for our Waukegan families,” Ortiz said in the text. “We also must remain aware that education is a key component in any green initiative,”

Bejster said along with benches, NexTrex uses the bags to make outdoor furniture for yards, decks and porches. All of their merchandise is fabricated from recycled material. The value of the bench is $1,500.

While Salinas said the Park District plans to enter again next year, the project will be different. Rather than six months to collect 500 pounds, it will be a yearlong effort to gather 1,000 pounds

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