What to do with those plastic shopping bags? Lafayette students are collecting them to make a bus bench _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Albertson's supermarket on Johnston Street has set up a collection point for used shopping bags that will be recycled to create park benches in Lafayette.

Lafayette Middle School students are gathering up thousands of plastic bags that will be bundled, recycled and transformed into a bus bench.

Lafayette Middle is pitting its homeroom classes against one another to collect plastic bags in a pilot program spearheaded by city-parish government to promote recycling.

The Plastic Bag Roundup project is an offshoot of the city beautification initiative Project Front Yard. The classes will compete to collect the most plastic bags, all of which will be recycled to build a bench at the school’s bus stop.

Choosing Lafayette Middle for the project’s trial run was a no-brainer, said Katherine McCormick, who is overseeing the project for the city-parish.

“Because Lafayette Middle is our environmental sciences academy, we thought it’d be a good fit for a pilot for plastic recycling program,” she said.

The students will collect not just grocery bags but bread bags, dry-cleaning bags, plastic newspaper sleeves and cereal bags, Lafayette Middle Principal Donald Thornton said.

McCormick gives the bags collected by the students to local grocery store Albertson’s, which will send them in bales to the Canadian recycling company Trex.

Trex will build the benches using the bags and wood chips. The company also recycles plastic bags to build decking, tables and other kinds of outdoor furniture.

Thornton said the program could help educate residents of the special requirement for recycling plastic bags.

“Most people don’t realize that you can’t just throw those traditional shopping bags in the regular recycling bin,” he said.

Plastic bags require a different system of recycling than other plastics, as they get caught in the machinery most plastics go through in the process.

Thornton said the bench will require about 450,000 plastic bags — roughly 500 pounds — to complete.

If the homerooms reach that goal within a month, there will be a second bench installed somewhere around Lafayette with the school’s logo on it.

“If you get the kids involved and help them to realize the importance of this, recycling can become a habit,” McCormick said. “Hopefully, it’ll stay with them for the rest of their lives.”