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Kids Schooled in Plastic Film Recycling for 15 Years

Teaching kids early on about the importance of recycling packaging is a great lesson that pays sustainable dividends going forward.

One such program, Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge, is celebrating a 15-year anniversary. Sponsored by Trex, the world’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking and railing, the program motivates K-12 students across the country to participate to earn prizes for their schools as they give new life to discarded plastic film.

The annual competition challenges students across the country to collect and recycle polyethylene (PE) plastic film over a six-month period for the chance to win high-performance Trex products for their schools. The challenge kicks-off on America Recycles Day (Nov. 15, 2021) and concludes on Earth Day (April 22, 2022).

Trex is also a major sponsor behind the recycling program at 30,000 store locations across the country that collects PE bags, films, and packaging that are #2 recycling code plastic.

The company’s decking is manufactured from 95% recycled materials, including a mix of reclaimed wood scrap and discarded plastic film. Each year, the company repurposes approximately 850 million pounds of recycled and reclaimed material in the production of durable composite decking.


Third-grade students at Whitehouse School in Reading Township, NJ, were among the 271 schools who participated the past school year.

Stephanie Hicks, Trex’s materials sourcing manager, informs PlasticsToday that in 2020 the company “upcycled more than 360 million pounds of plastic film otherwise destined for incineration or landfills, making Trex one of the largest recyclers of plastic film in North America.”

Says Bryan Fairbanks, Trex president and CEO, “our school challenge program provides students with a better understanding and appreciation for the importance of recycling, showing that value can be found in something that was once considered waste. This challenge exemplifies that small, everyday efforts and a little bit of creativity can make a positive impact on not only the environment, but also on the lives of the people who live within it.”

We also wanted to uncover what Trex has learned from the program and about the kids, too.

Changes and insights.

For one thing, Hicks discloses that they’ve tweaked the program over the past year. “While the 2021-2022 program will operate the same as last year, we revamped our recycling webpages on to make enrollment and participation easier for schools,” she says. “New online resources include educational videos and updated recycling posters.”


That’s not the only change — the kids and teachers continue to “up” their game.

“The schools’ administrators, teachers and students get more creative every year in promoting their participation from collaborative Instagram videos to fun, engaging Facebook posts,” Hicks says. “We always look forward to seeing their social content! And despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, 271 schools participated in the challenge last year. As schools across the country adapt and pave their way forward, we expect to see participation numbers increase in the coming years.”

Trex’s unique program has drawn rave reviews from participants.

“We’ve received feedback from teachers that their students truly feel honored that the sustainability and greening efforts of their school community are recognized,” says Hicks. “Teachers shared that their students learned important lessons about recycling, including how recycled materials can be reused and just how much plastic they use on a daily basis.”

According to Hicks, the winners are selected based on total weight of plastic film collected per student. And to provide parity across the range of schools, prizes are awarded to the top recyclers based on grade level, school size, and region. Each winner is presented with high-performance, sustainable Trex products to help beautify their school’s campus, and every participating school receives a special gift from Trex in appreciation for their efforts.

The winner of the 2020-2021 challenge was North Cross School, located in Roanoke, VA, where students collected what Hicks calls “an astounding 5,325 pounds of recycled materials” through classroom challenges and community-wide outreach.

“The schools that participate in the Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge help contribute to our company’s commitment to sustainability,” offers Hicks, “and we are proud to provide a fun, educational program for students across the country to learn about the importance of recycling.”

It’s also a winning program for the plastics industry that nurtures future recyclers in communities across the US who are likely already making a sustainably minded difference at home.

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