The NexTrex Recycling Challenge, initiated by Trex, encourages community participation in recycling plastic film. Over 3,300 schools and community groups nationwide have joined, diverting two million pounds of plastic film from landfills in 2022 alone and earning rewards, including benches made from recycled materials, while raising awareness about plastic waste reduction.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

October 11, 2023

4 Min Read

Trex, one of North America’s largest polyethylene (PE) film recyclers, started a small program near its Winchester, Virginia plant years back to entice its neighbors to capture more feedstock. The initiative, which rewarded them for collecting film and rerouting it to Trex through retail store drops offs, has snowballed.

Dubbed as the NexTrex Recycling Challenge, it’s now powered by over 3,300 participating schools and community groups nationwide. If they collect 1,000 pounds of PE in a year, they earn a bench made of Trex plastic composite materials.

Someone on the East Coast who’s signed on tells a cousin out west about the competition. A Lions Club chapter gives the program a shout out at an annual conference. Or a retiree chats it up at a Sunday brunch with friends.  As word spreads, more projects pop up and more wasted film heads to Trex.

Participants diverted two million pounds of PE from landfill in 2022 alone, seeing that it moved on to Trex plants to be reborn as composite to go into decks and outdoor furniture.

The NexTrex Recycling Challenge draws grade-school students, house of worship congregants, master gardeners, and members of veterans’ associations, among community folks. The bench they win if they hit the 1,000-pound mark is a reward for their efforts, a trophy of sorts, says Stephanie Hicks, Materials and Recycling programs manager, Trex. It’s a visual symbol that closes the story on plastic films’ journey from spent grocery bag, sandwich bag, pallet wrap, or newspaper sleeve to functional, eye-catching furniture that lives on, maybe in a city park or in front of a library or local food pantry.

While 1,000 pounds of very light plastic sounds like a lot of material, they round it up pretty fast, usually in about seven or eight months. Even groups who don’t make it to 1,000 pounds get something to show for their work, whether a birdhouse, planter box, or coat rack, among made-from-Trex novelties.

“The NexTrex Recycling Challenge is a uniting program. Some people meet for the first time and build relationships. And the bench that will go back into their communities is a real motivator,” Hicks says.

Adults looking to stay busy in their community work side by side with friends and make new ones. Kids get to compete with their peers, set goals, and take on new jobs. They experience classroom learning a little differently whether figuring out math problems as they track their progress, or learning in a science class about different plastic polymers and how each is recycled.

The competition has been a captivating way to educate the community about how they can control the fate of their discards and why they should do it.

“Any time we can get in front of people and promote our programs that’s what we want to do. And we are teaching them the right way to recycle film bags and film packaging. It can be tricky; the symbols are tricky. We want them to understand how to recycle; and let them know this is where it ends up,” Hicks says.

They take it to grocery stores listed on the corporation’s website and learn about the recycling process and what they can and can’t put into the bins through videos and other educational materials housed on the site.

Trex provides schools and communities with the platform to participate and recycling bins. And students get magnets with visuals explaining what to recycle.

Recently Keep Arkansas Beautiful helped bring the program to schools in its state leveraging a grant. Springhill Elementary was one of them. Students collected film during recess, brought them to bins set up inside and outside the building, and from there they went to a local grocer.

Tara Efird, a counselor presented educational materials about recycling in classes she teaches there, and the kids got magnets and stickers to take home and share with their families.

Efird had a captive audience.

“The students at Springhill are always up for a challenge.  They love to participate and win. And I think that they are interested in being a part of protecting the environment. I hope that they will carry on the passion that they have now to middle, junior high, and high school and beyond,” she says.

The bench they were rewarded sits near the flagpole outside the school, soon to be surrounded by trees to be planted there.

Hicks’s advice for others in pursuit of more feedstock on how to pump programs like the NexTrex Challenge?

“They have to get civic-minded organizations involved. They make our job easier. We do our job of getting people the information they need through our website. But the big thing is getting interested participants that want to be your ambassador to share information and opportunities with other folks.”

Trex continues to reach out elsewhere to bring in more film, while offering businesses a waste management option for what to them would otherwise be trash. Among most recent partners are Rent the Runway, L.L. Bean, and Urban Outfitters.  The deck maker has also turned to industrial and agricultural sectors for more volume.

Trex recycled over one billion pounds of PE and wood in 2022. These reclaimed materials make up 95% of what goes into its decking, which is sold through more than 6,700 retail outlets across six continents.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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