Bags to Benches – Local Eagle Scout Project for Recycling Plastic Bags

How many times have you been asked, ‘paper or plastic?’ at the grocery store? In an effort to cut back on the cutting down of trees to produce paper bags, plastic bag usage increased exponentially in recent years. Worldwide, up to five trillion plastic bags are used every year; many, after serving their purpose of transporting groceries and other items, find their way into landfills and oceans. But, did you know plastic bags can be used to make benches? Local Eagle Scout Will Bumgarner of Winston-Salem, began collecting plastic bags with the intention of turning them into benches as his Eagle Scout project.

Will Bumgarner joined the scouts in the second grade, sharing an interest in scouting with his dad, Steve, who was an Eagle Scout and is on the Old Hickory Council. When Will began considering ideas to gain his Eagle Scout badge, he looked into how different recycled items were being used to make furniture items.

“I heard about different types of furniture made from recycled plastics, and I thought the concept was interesting. I did a lot of research and decided which program would be the best fit for my project. I landed on the program through NexTrex, which involves the collection of any type of plastic bags or packaging. The majority of the bags I collected were grocery bags, but lots of plastic bags were acceptable like plastic shipping packages, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, wrap-around plastic on paper towels and cases of water, bread and cereal bags were among some of the plastics that could be used,” said Will.

A Community Effort

Will began his plastic bag collection by setting up drop off bins across town. Getting the word out through flyers and social media posts.

“These bins were set up at different businesses, and many of them helped spread the word on their own. People began talking about it, and the idea spread quickly. Many people organized mini collections in their neighborhoods or churches and would then contact me to pick them up. I also held a bag drop event where people could bring bags and get some ice cream in return. That event was to push us to our goal of 40,000 bags and tie up the project with some fun,” Will commented. 

As the bag donations came in, Will’s job was just beginning.

“I had been sorting the bags along the way, counting each one. We put 50 bags in one grocery sized bag and then we would fit 10 groups of 50 into a large trash bag. This meant there were 500 bags per trash bag and about 87 large trash bags in total by the end. We then contacted Lowes Foods, which helped schedule a truck that could bring the bags back to their distribution center. Their parent company, MDI, is one of the partners of the program and their distribution center is a drop-off location. We took five car loads to the Lowes Foods, and then they handled them from there,” stated Will.

After all bags were counted and processed, the bench was customized to Will’s preferences, and he donated it to his former school, Wiley Middle School. Will also held a large trash clean up to improve the state of the Hanes Park and Wiley area and promote a more positive litter free environment. The bench is currently outside the front of Wiley Middle School along Northwest Boulevard in Winston-Salem.   

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