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Plastic Bag Swaps Promote Recycling And Reuse

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

Throughout the month of April, Keep Pensacola Beautiful has been hosting a series of Plastic Bag Swaps. Thus far, the effort to encourage the switch to reusable canvas totes has been successful and will culminate with two events this Saturday, including the annual Pensacola Earth Day celebration. 

For the past couple of Mondays, members of the Keep Pensacola Beautiful (KPB) staff have rounded up their haul from the previous weekend.

Shea Kelly has been doing her part. She’s an AmeriCorps VISTA environmental programs coordinator at KPB and heads the Plastic Bag Swap initiative.

“We are collecting bags from the community; anything from grocery bags, to produce bags, zip lock bags, a bunch of kind of plastic bags that can’t be recycled in your curbside recycling,” Kelly said. “We’re taking anything like that.”

Typically, recyclable bags are labeled HDPE2. Large bubble wrap also is accepted.

So far this month, there have been four bag swap events in the Pensacola area at locations including The Palafox Market, Plain Brewing Company and Ever’man Cooperative Grocery & Cafe.

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Shea Kelly and Jessica Irwin with Keep Pensacola Beautiful show off the tote they're giving away during this year's Plastic Bag Swap.

“What we’re doing is setting up our tent or table and being there for the community to bring us bags,” Kelly explained. “If they bring us 20 bags or more, then we’ll give them a canvas bag with our logo on it, you know. So, what we’re trying to do there is give them an alternative to the plastic bag route and kind of stop the plastic bag cycle.”

As part of each event, Keep Pensacola Beautiful displays their giant, hollow, five-foot tall “KPB” letters created by Brownsville Ornamental Ironworks, Inc. using iron and chicken-wire.

The letters are used to collect the bags and make a great visual when full. 

According to Kelly, so far so good, with their highest participation at Perfect Plain last Sunday.

“We gave out 105 of our bags, which means that we brought in we estimate over 3,700 bags, plastic bags,” she said. “So, that was really excited, we had our letters stuffed, like as stuffed as we could get them, and we couldn’t even fit them all in there, then.”

At the Keep Pensacola Beautiful office, part of the job on this day is to empty the metal frame letters and prepare the haul for transport to recycling partner Publix.

“Bags are a really clean stream, so stores really do want them back because they can be reused for a whole bunch of purposes, as long as they’re dry,” said Jessica Irwin, director of programming & development at KPB, adding that matts for the homeless, bricks, tiles, and art projects are also reuse options.

Keep Pensacola Beautiful is an affiliate of Keep American Beautiful. Irwin says the Plastic Bag Swap is just one aspect of their Great American Cleanup for this year.

“It’s three months long, and the idea is to do as much community impact and clean up events around reducing litter, improving recycling, and beautifying our community in those three months,” she said.

Locally, this year’s Great American Clean up started last month with a series of “Clean Your Block” parties.

“We went to different neighborhoods and coordinated volunteers to pick up trash. So, we had a lot of success with that and it was a lot of fun,” said Irwin.

“Then in April, we’re doing the bag swap, so we’re recycling plastic bags and giving people the motivation to show them that they can bring those bags back to the store, but also an incentive and replacement for those bags to do a better going forward. And, then in May, we’re doing something called “Paint Your Heart Out.” 

For the “Paint Your Heart Out” event, which involves home beautification for the two elderly residents chosen, organizers will need many volunteers. Individuals who’d like to help can register online at keeppensacolabeautiful.org.

Meantime, the organization is looking for a strong close to this month’s Plastic Bag Swap campaign. Of course, plastic bags are harmful to the environment and wildlife. But, according to program coordinator Shea Kelly – this effort aims to educate people about recycling and reuse.

Credit Keep Pensacola Beautiful
Keep Pensacola Beautiful
Keep Pensacola Beautiful letters fill up at a recent Plastic Bag Swap event.

“That’s why we’re giving them the canvas bag. So, we would like, um, we’re pushing people to use reusable bags, instead of the plastic grocery bags and we’re getting people to sign a little pledge saying, ‘I,” insert name, ‘pledge to reduce my use of plastic bag,’” Kelly declared. “And, so we’ve collected a ton of those.”

Kelly says they hope to collect a lot more pledges and plastic bags, while pointing out that the bag swap initiative has already surpassed last year’s effort with two events to go.

“Earth Day Festival is in Seville Square this year and we’re going to set up a tent and have our KPB letters there, of course,” she noted. “And, that is going to be a big event, so we’re hoping a lot of people will turn out and bring us all their bags.”

Again, individuals who turn in 20 plastic bags or more will get a Keep Pensacola Beautiful canvas tote.

The Pensacola Earth Day celebration will take place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with the bag swap from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.  From 3 to 6 p.m., the bag swap moves to From the Ground Up Community Garden, site of this month’s Slow Ride in partnership with Bike Pensacola.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.