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Zero Waste Jackson County launches county-wide recycling initiative

A bench made out of recycled plastics will be placed in Jackson County if county residents can collect 500 pounds of plastic bags or plastic film product by July 1, 2020.

Plastic Film recycling
Zero Waste Jackson County will begin collecting No. 2 and No. 4 recyclable plastic film similar to depicted products to make into a community bench. (Jessica Pass/The Globe)

JACKSON — What can 500 pounds of recycled plastics make?

If Zero Waste Jackson County can successfully complete a challenge it's embarking on, the plastics will create a bench that can be placed in any of Jackson County's communities. A successful challenge will also keep 500 pounds of plastic bags and plastic film products out of the landfill.

“One of Zero Waste’s goals is to recycle smarter,” said organization founder Jenna Schwartz of how the community challenge fits within the organization's holistic initiative, which advocates for refusing, reducing or re-using single-use plastics.

The newly formed organization will make it easier for residents to recycle their thin plastic products from Jan. 1 through July 1, 2020. The products are sent to NexTrex, a fabricator of outdoor products created using recycled plastics.

If the group is successful at the conclusion of the challenge, the company will fabricate a bench. Schwartz said ZWJC will accept suggestions about where to place the bench in the county.

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ZWJC will kick off its first plastic bag and plastic film collection event from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Jackson Library, 311 Third St., Jackson.

The organization will host a 10 a.m. Jan. 25 showing of "Bag It," a documentary showing the effects of plastic bags and other plastic products on the ecosystem, marine environment and human body. It will also collect eligible plastic film products during the event at the Jackson Library.

According to Schwartz, in addition to the Jackson Library, the group plans to continue rotating collections at libraries in Heron Lake and Lakefield on a monthly basis. Products can also be recycled at fixed locations in the county through the duration of the challenge: city halls in Jackson, Heron Lake and Okabena, and the Jackson County Land Management Office, 603 S. Highway 86, Lakefield.

Schwartz said the group will also work with the Jackson County Central School District, nursing homes, restaurants and other businesses.

“Hopefully we can get them involved to collect internally and our volunteers can go and collect (recycled products) from them,” Schwartz said.

Plastic film products are described as anything less than 10 millimeters thick. Zero Waste Jackson County will accept numbers 2 and 4 plastic products for their initiative. Common plastic film products include bread bags, produce bags, dry cleaning bags, ice bags, plastic baggies, packaging material like bubble wrap and air packs, newspaper sleeves, ice bags, grocery bags and plastic wrap commonly found around other products like a case of water bottles, toilet paper or paper towels. The products must be clean and dry to be accepted.

Schwartz said the group is happy to take suggestions or make arrangements to collect products at businesses, homes or civic groups. She can be reached at zerowastejacksoncounty@gmail.com

A video by NexTrex describes which products are accepted and how the process works in this YouTube Video.

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Schwartz said these common plastic items shouldn’t be placed in curbside recycling. They can jam the machines at the recycling center, which is potentially dangerous to the machine operators, Schwarz said. Inappropriately recycled products can also contaminate products that could have been recycled, resulting in them being thrown in the landfill.

“It’s worse to just throw what doesn’t belong in (curbside recycling),” Schwartz said.

Schwartz started ZWJC in September shortly after moving back to her Jackson hometown. The Jackson chapter was inspired by Zero Waste St. Paul, which Schwartz was active in while she lived in the metro for a year before returning to Jackson.

Schwartz described the first couple meetings as casual, with interest shown from about a dozen people. She said the group will probably begin meeting on a monthly basis in addition to the recycling initiative.

Future plans for the group includes hosting educational workshops and reusable bag giveaways.

Plans are also evolving to get the group active in other community activities and events. Schwartz's dream with the group is to address the negative effects of wasted food products by initiating an organic curbside recycling program.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to compost unused food,” she said.

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Zero Waste Jackson County is on Facebook and Instagram. Check its Facebook page for routine updates and meeting announcements.

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