Gilbertsville-Mount Upton school wins film plastic challenge

(GILBERTSVILLE) — Gilbertsville-Mount Upton swept the Otsego County Film Plastic Recycling Challenge, with a combined total of 1,517 pounds of film plastic recycled. The elementary school at GMU collected 959 pounds, while the middle/high school gathered 558 pounds.

The Otsego County Film Plastic Recycling Challenge is an annual event co-sponsored by Otsego County Conservation Association and the Otsego County Solid Waste Department. During the challenge, which runs between November and April, schools work to collect as much film plastic from their community as they can. The plastic is collected, weighed, and then dropped off for recycling, where it can be turned into new material such as composite lumber. Contest winners are selected based on the per capita weight of plastic collected at their school.

“Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Elementary and Middle/High schools not only collected the most plastic by per capita weight, they also collected the most plastic by absolute weight,” said Shane Digan, recycling coordinator for the Otsego County Solid Waste Department. “We are incredibly proud of all the schools that participated in this year’s challenge. In total, Morris, Richfield Springs, Worcester, and Gilbertsville-Mount Upton collected over 3,000 pounds of plastic film. Without these students and schools, all of that material would end up in a landfill.”

Ashley Hughes, GMU’s art teacher, coordinates the challenge in the school. “Our students are really enthusiastic about this every year, so much so that they’ve inspired outstanding community involvement too. I think that one of the most important lessons from this contest is that with everyone doing what they can–even if that means only contributing 1 plastic bag–towards the collective effort, it really adds up and truly makes a difference.

In the elementary school division, Gilbertsville-Mount Upton (959 pounds, 4.8/student) edged out Richfield Springs, which collected 840 pounds (3.7 pounds/student). At the secondary level, GMU’s 558 pounds (3.5 pounds/student) beat out Morris, which collected 339 pounds (2.3 pounds/student). The six participating schools collected a combined 3,085 pounds.

“When you consider that an average grocery bag weighs a fraction of a pound, the sheer numbers of individual items collected is staggering,” said Jeff O’Handley, OCCA’s program director. “These are items that very typically end up in the landfill. Recycling them saves money, energy and natural resources.”

Participating schools received a container for collecting the plastic along with flyers and posters that show what can be collected. How each school chooses to run their collection is up to them, though they must weigh the plastic and submit their collection information to the Solid Waste Department.

OCCA and the Solid Waste Department began sponsoring the film plastic challenge in 201(6?), in response to New York State’s expanded film plastic recycling law, which required certain retailers to collect film plastics, such as single use bags, newspaper and dry cleaning bags, bubble wrap and package wrap for recycling. Though the state banned the use of single-use plastic takeout bags in 2020, those retailers continue collecting and recycling film plastic.

“We thought this would be a good way to promote awareness of film plastic recycling,” said O’Handley. “Because film plastic isn’t collected at the transfer stations or in curbside programs, few people knew that it was an option.”

“While our collection only runs from November to April, it’s important to remember that recycling is a year-round commitment,” Digan said. “Keep collecting that film plastic and take it to a store with a collection bin.”

Founded in 1968, Otsego County Conservation Association is a private, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to promoting the appreciation and sustainable use of Otsego County’s natural resources through education, advocacy, resource management, research, planning, and practice. For more information on OCCA, or to donate, visit www.occainfo.org

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