Collecting plastic bags helps planet, city
By Eileen Persike
Earth Day is just around the corner, on April 21. Since its inception in 1970, Earth Day has evolved. It’s no longer just a day to pick up trash along the roadside, but several days celebrated around the world, with people of all ages working to “prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction,” according to earthday.org. This year’s theme is Restore Our Earth™.
In Rhinelander, efforts of one downtown business could help to do just that. Emily Popp, an employee at Mel’s Trading Post, has taken the reins of a recycling effort that will not only keep some plastics out of the landfill, but could net the city a bench made from recycled plastic.
“I’ve been living in the Northwoods area for four years,” Popp said. “I’m surprised how many people do not recycle, because it’s not the easiest thing – you have to take a couple extra steps. I want people to know that it’s easy.”
Popp is championing a partnership with composite decking manufacturer, Trex, to collect plastic bags and film packaging that Trex uses to make its product. If at least 500 pounds of the plastics is collected, the city of Rhinelander will be rewarded with a bench from Trex.
“It is being super well received,” Popp said. “The bags that are in the bin are 40-gallon bags and we have five or six bags from this week already. It’s been amazing. There are people who had a cupboard full of them, or had them in their garage.”
The plastics being collected at Mel’s are some that are likely not accepted by other recyclers, such as plastic grocery bags, bread bags, bubble wrap, reclosable food storage bags, cereal bags, produce bags and the wrap that holds together cases of water or paper products.
“The rule of thumb is if you can push your finger into it and it stretches, then it’s acceptable,” Popp explained. “But if it doesn’t budge or snaps right away, it’s not.”
Environmental Protection Agency data show the U.S. generated 35 million tons of plastic in 2018, with landfills receiving 27 million tons. Numbers that big can seem overwhelming, and individual recycling practices futile, but Popp doesn’t see it that way.
“You just have to do your best, when you can,” she said. “If we have everyone doing one day a week of not using any single-use plastics; we need more people to do a little bit rather than a few people doing everything.”
A drop-off bin is located inside Mel’s Trading Post on Brown Street and anyone is welcome to bring their clean, dry, qualifying plastics for collection. Future drop off locations will include the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce and Tractor Supply in Rhinelander.
“Once this challenge is over, we’re not going to stop doing it,” Popp said. “We can do two challenges a year, and get two benches per year. Even if we don’t do another challenge, we’ll still be a drop off point, we’ll continue doing this.”
What is accepted?
• Items should be clean and dry
• Check to see if the packaging is labeled with a 2 (HDPE*) or a 4 (LDPE**)
• See if the packaging will stretch when pulled
• NOT acceptable if packaging is shiny or makes a crinkly sound
*High density polyethylene
** Low density polyethylene