Recycling Challenge Returns for Second Year: Sustainable Student Association strives to educate students on sustainable practices

By: Melissa Gonzalez,

Familiar logos on plastic bags pile up in the hallway between the bookstore and the Dragon Café.

The plastic bag recycling challenge is back for its second year. The Sustainable Students Association (SSA) is a small organization, but the students behind it are making a big impact.

Sophomore Abby Bormann, co-president of SSA, said the goal of the organization was tospread awareness and knowledge of sustainable practices to the student body.

SSA announced the first plastic bag challenge last year after the previous president, Laura Wessberg, saw the challenge on Trex’s website.

Trex, a company that makes decks and furniture out of recycled plastic, hosts this challenge to encourage recycling, keep waste out of landfills and raise awareness of their use of recycled products to make their furniture.

The challenge is to raise more than 500 pounds, and last year, students helped SSA surpass that goal by almost 15 percent with a total of 574 pounds of plastic. According to Trex’s website, 500 pounds equals approximately 40,500 plasticbags.

Each month, SSA weighs and reports their collected materials before the bags are delivered to their appropriate drop-off site. If SSA reaches the goal, as they did last year, Trex will donate a piece of furniture made from recycledplastics.

According to, plastic bags take 10-100 years to break down, and often pollute oceans and other waterways. Instead of naturally degrading, plastic bags actually go through photodegradation, a process caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Instead of naturally breaking down, particles frombags only get smaller.

“It’s really good for getting people aware of how much plastic they’re using because when you see a whole bunch of plastic you’re like do I really throw that away?” Bormann said. “And I’ve talked to people (who say) ‘I see people throwing away their recyclable plastic bags and film all the time.’”

The Center for Biological Diversity’s website shared a statistic from waste management stating that only one percent of plastic bags are recycled, while the rest end up polluting the environment and being ingested by animals.

The challenge lasts six months and ends in mid-April. SSA decided to host it againdue to the success of last year’s challenge and renewed student interest.

Aside from this challenge, SSA also holds events that teach students how to make their own reusable products. Last year students had the opportunity to make their own deodorant and reusable beeswax wrapping rather than using plastic.

Chaney Jambor, a senior majoring in biochemistry, is the other co-president and said there is interest in creating a composting program with the school’s dining services. However, SSA is waiting for more members to join to be able to provide enough people to sustain that project.

Jambor and Bormann are hopeful that more students will learn about SSA and join. They believe that although making changes can be difficult, the reward to switching to sustainable methods is worth it.

“One thing I care about is educating the general public into small things they can do that can have a small impact, but with a larger portion, can create a larger impact if everyone is involved with it,” Jambor said.

As of Nov. 30, SSA’s current total is 103.2 pounds of plastic bags, which is 20.64% o the 500 pound goal.  But there are still bags to be weighed and the rest of the school year to go.

Students have until mid-April to drop off plastic bags at designated sites at Nemzek Hall, MacLeanHall, the CMU, Hagen Hall and John Neumaier Hall.

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