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Monday, May 27, 2024

Trex Streamlines Community Recycling Program; Volunteers Dive in to Collect Plastic Film for New Upcycled Benches

The upcycled bench Trex provides to organizations that complete the program. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 9/2023

It’s not easy being green, especially in rural New Jersey, where unloading your recyclables usually requires a trip to the town dump or curbside service from your sanitation company.

Fortunately, Trex, a company that produces wood-alternative decking and railing, makes it a little more fun to recycle your plastic.

Trex uses 95% of recycled materials, including polyethylene plastic film (PE) to make its outdoor living products. By upcycling the plastic from items like shopping and produce bags, shipping case wrap, and newspaper sleeves, Trex reports it repurposes more than one billion pounds of materials — including 400 million pounds of plastic film.

This past August, Trex announced that it streamlined its NexTrex Community Recycling Challenge to make it more accessible to schools and communities.

The challenge requires a group to register with Trex to collect 1,000 pounds of plastic within a one-year period. Groups can join anytime during the year and upon completion of the challenge are rewarded with a Trex bench for their organization.

“With the help of thousands of community partners across the country, we are able to divert millions of pounds of plastic waste each year from ending up in landfills and give it new life as beautiful and sustainable Trex decking,” said Trex recycling programs coordinator Emily Whitacre in a press release.

Darlene Hamlen, an employee at Rite Aid in Blairstown, is happy to save up the store’s plastic for the program. She puts it aside for her “plastic lady,” also known as Desiree Dunn, who collects it once a week and delivers it to a NexTrex recycling program in Liberty Township. There, the plastic is inspected for cleanliness and wadded into smaller portions by volunteers.

Desiree Dunn stands in back of her car full of the 24 pounds of plastic she collected from Rite Aid, the Dollar Store, friends and other stores in town who set aside mostly the plastic overwrap from their shipments each week. She then takes it to Liberty who does “the heavy lifting” of sorting, condensing, recording and delivery to a collection center. “Sometimes its mounds and mounds of bubble wrap we all enjoy stomping on. It’s a happy chore for kids of all ages to help with squashing but they also learn that this small effort helps cut down on plastic pollution and results in something tangible for the community. It’s become a personal challenge for us all.” Photo by N. Dunn, 9/2023

Bubble wrap is popped and bags are folded small so they can be compressed into larger transport bags. After the plastic is weighed and photographed, it is recorded on the Trex recycling portal. Finally, a volunteer delivers it to a participating recycling center. “On delivery day, I can’t see out the back window of my car,” said a volunteer.

Plastic ready for squashing. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 9/2023
Plastic ready to be put into a transport bag. Photo by C. Tamulonis 9/2023
Plastic waiting to be transported to a recycling center with the number of pounds labeled on each bag. Photo by D. Dunn, 9/2023

Recycling plastic has become a bit of an obsession for those active in the program. “I hope more schools and youth groups become involved,” said a participant. “It teaches them about recycling and they can see their efforts at the end of the year in a bench for their community.”

Trex provides three recycling bins and posters for the program. The posters clearly outline what the recycling centers accept, including bread and produce bags if they are clean, dry, and free of food residue.

One of the bins Trex provides to collect plastic for recycling. Photo by C. Tamulonis, 9/2023

“The stretch wrap used to cover delivery pallets is also highly recyclable. It would be great if more stores put it aside for the program,” said Dunn.

Knowing that your plastic is going to be upcycled into something made for everyone to enjoy is a boon for those worried about waste system efficiency. In New Jersey, county and municipal recycling collection programs vary throughout the state and much of the recycling gets rejected due to contamination issues, making it hard to know how much of what you put into your recycling bin gets recycled.

To learn more about the NexTrex recycling program visit:

For tips about how to recycle in in New Jersey visit:

Cybele Tamulonis
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer

Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.