By Tim Conaway

I’ve always been frustrated that I can’t put single use plastic film in the recycling bin. Mrs. Conaway – who knows the rules – says it cannot go.

We’ve always bundled up our plastic shopping bags and dropped them off at the store on our next trip. But only recently did we learn that all sorts of plastic film can be recycled along with the shopping bags (more on this later).

Environmentalism is a key fundamental of the Lions Clubs International. Maple Grove Lions President Jim Miller found out about something called the NexTrex challenge, which has been a real eye-opener. Trex uses recycled plastic and wood to make deck materials and other outdoor goods. Trex wants the kind of plastics that other recyclers don’t want.

Hard plastics like water and soda bottles, clamshell containers, some take-out food containers and the like have specific chemical make-ups, usually HDPE and PET. Plastic film is chemically different, so hard plastic recyclers can’t use it. To make matters worse, the film tangles up in the machinery, as well as with the other plastic, and has to be separated. Any film sent to these recyclers – in the hopes that they will just go ahead and use it – turns out for the worse, as they just ship it out with the trash.

Every year, 75 percent of single-use plastic ends up in landfills. That can amount to 25 million pounds. And then there is the problem of “unrecyclable” plastic waste being shipped off to Southeast Asia, where it piles up, gets caught by the wind, or ends up in the sea.

Retail chains across the country have already partnered with Trex to collect and send plastic film. Local stores send their collection to their distribution centers, which compact the material into large bales. Those are shipped either to Virginia or Utah Trex locations where materials are mixed to create decking.

Their NexTrex challenge is for an organization to collect 500 pounds of plastic films in a six-month period. Beyond the environmental reward, Trex will give the organization a bench made of reclaimed material. I know from working with Age-Friendly Maple Grove that many older residents would like to see more benches alongside the city’s many trails. This bench will be one of them.

For the Lions, however, this will be an ongoing project. If you know anything about the Maple Grove Lions, it’s that once we start something, we like to keep it going. As long as there is plastic film to be kept out of landfills, we’ll be collecting it and sending it to Trex through our local retailers.

Some projects are hard to get off the ground. This one has taken off like rockets. We collected more than 80 pounds of material in the first two weeks, largely through word of mouth. We have a public collection bin at the Maple Grove Community Center, and Lions have got bins into residential apartment facilities, local businesses and schools.

Besides grocery bags, we can recycle bread bags, bubble wrap, dry cleaning bags, newspaper sleeves, ice bags, plastic shipping envelopes, cereal bags, case overwrap (like on paper towels or bottled beverages), sale bags, pallet wrap and stretch film, wood pellet bags, produce bags, and even resealable plastic food storage bags. Everything has to be clean, dry and free of food residue.

Would you like a collection bin for your apartment complex? Do you think your business neighbors would like to bring in their plastic films to a collection box at your location? Simply e-mail and we’ll get you set up.

Believe me, you’ll feel good about it. And no one in your household with have to scold you about trying to sneak the plastic film into the other recycling.