Oct. 11—OSKALOOSA — The image of a plastic bag floating through the sky is nothing new to anyone who has been outside on a windy day. Friends of Mahaska County Conservation is working to change that.
For the past two years, the group has worked diligently to collect and recycle used plastic bags in an attempt to keep them out of landfills and offer a new life to the bags that are donated — a life that doesn’t involve threatening wildlife or littering nature.
“Every little bag we do is just that much less going to the landfill,” Friends of Mahaska County Conservation President Rodney Anderson said. “I think that’s the biggest thing … our biggest push is to reduce.”
Having collected over 4,000 pounds of plastic bags since 2019, including nearly 1,000 pounds in two weeks from students at North Mahaska, Friends of Mahaska County Conservation was one of nine recipients of the 2021 Build with Bags Grant from the Iowa Grocers Association. They also received a $2,000 grant from the association in 2019.
The main goals of the association are to promote the reduction of consumption of plastic bags, encourage use of reusable bags, increase the amount of plastic bags recycled, and aid schools and parks in purchasing products made from recycled plastic bags.
The products are made out of high-density polyethylene by Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls and include benches, speed bumps, planters, garbage bins and more.
Friends of Mahaska County Conservation has been able to use the grant funds to provide recycled plastic benches for Eddyville, Leighton, New Sharon, Fremont, Barnes City, Oskaloosa, Beacon, Rose Hill and University Park. Peoria Christian School also received a bench for their playground area.
Multiple community entities helped make the collection efforts successful, including Fareway where monthly bag collections are held. Fareway also sponsors the Friends as part of the Iowa Grocers Association.
“There’s been a tremendous amount of support for it,” Anderson said. “It’s been real positive.”
Others have expressed interest in recycling other products, but limited resources currently keep the group from expanding to other plastics yet.
Approximately 62 bags equal one pound, and community members have come together to collect 250,000.
“That’s how many we’ve kept out of the landfill,” Anderson said.
With such high interest throughout the county in recycling plastic bags, the Friends’ next step is to purchase a mobile collection unit. COVID-driven shortages have pushed the project back slightly, but Anderson hopes to have the mobile unit up and running within a few months.
Already, Oskaloosa residents or visitors can recycle their bags at the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds where the group has a collection building open 24/7.
The final bag collection of the season will also take place Oct. 15 in the Oskaloosa Fareway.
“People seem to want to recycle,” Anderson said. “We’ve had very good reception from people in the community that they want to do it.”
Shannon Rabotski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.