Pak-Sher — which makes plastic storage bags, food-handling bags, deli bags and carryout bags — has developed an incentive program to encourage school children in Kilgore, Texas, to recycle plastic bags.
In the Keep It in Kilgore program, the 600 children at Kilgore Intermediate School bring the plastic shopping bags their families accumulate to the school — about a pound at a time, or roughly 75 bags — in exchange for a chance to win movie tickets every two weeks and a shot at a Kindle Fire e-book reader at the end of each school semester.
Each of the 27 participating classroom teachers also received iPads for their part in encouraging the students at the school — which educates children in the fourth and fifth grades — to take part in the program.
The used bags are taken to the Pak-Sher plant where they are recycled and made into black bags with the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce's City of Stars logo. The bags are then sold to local merchants in a business-helping-business model where the students receive extra incentive tickets for turning the black bags back in, taking the bag-recycling process full circle.
David Motley, Pak-Sher's chief financial officer, said the school produced almost 2,000 pounds of recyclable material in just the first semester of the recently completed school year — enough to produce 50 cases of the new bags.
“At the time, I said: ‘This will be something that's neat, but it's probably no big deal,' “ Motley said. “But I have been completely amazed at the enthusiasm of the kids. I thought it would be a semester-long deal and then fizzle out, but it hasn't. The kids just kept collecting bags.”
At the end of the 2011-12 academic year, the Kilgore Intermediate School students had collected more than 3,500 pounds or more than 262,000 bags.
Pak-Sher also gave nearly 300 fifth-graders a tour of the bag-making plant so the students could see exactly what came of their bags of bags.
“The key is to get these kids, in this generation, to recognize that this is not trash that needs to go in the landfill,” said Motley. “The whole purpose [was for them to] see how something that normally goes into the trash can be converted to a product that they could put their hands on and do something with.”
The incentive program grew out of a plan to get the school children involved in a hands-on recycling exercise, Motley said, and through a partnership with Kilgore Economic Development Corp., which provided $25,000 to Pak-Sher to defray the cost of some of the equipment needed for the project.
“This project is a multigenerational, hands-on learning experience melding economic, social and ecological behaviors,” said Amanda Nobles, KEDC executive director. “It benefits Pak-Sher and their green marketing efforts, and teaches students that green is not only what's right but also what's profitable.”
Partially because of the project, Pak-Sher received the Community Small Business of the Year award in December for its commitment to the east Texas community.
“Obviously Pak-Sher's not doing this for the profit,” Motley said. “A 50-case job is a small job for us. It's a subsidized project, but it's worth it. We are doing it again next year because we feel so strongly about it.”
Motley said the Keep It in Kilgore project has expanded the company's idea of “what we think we can do.”
“There was always a hesitation to recycle bags because they're more difficult to handle,” Motley said. “We've decided we can do it, because we did it here. The next step is to determine, ‘How can we do this more efficiently?' “
On a larger scale, he said the company is asking itself whether it can participate more broadly in the recycling effort around the country. “We are all impacted by our resources,” Motley said. “It was a step for us in the evolution toward being a better local member of society.”