Student-led plastic bag recycling program launches at UWinnipeg

Rebecca Pedneault, ©UWinnipeg

As a sustainability leader, The University of Winnipeg has campus recycling programs for everything from batteries to ink cartridges and light bulbs. Now fourth-year science student Rebecca Pedneault is helping UWinnipeg introduce another waste reduction opportunity.

Pedneault is the winner of this year’s Geography and Environmental Students Association (GESA) Eco-Grant for her project to bring plastic bag recycling bins to UWinnipeg.

“We have multiple recycling initiatives on campus and sustainable projects, but there was no place to recycle plastic bags and I see people all the time carrying their lunch or running from Staples with plastic bags,” she says. “I figured it was a good project to have here because the bags just end up in the garbage.”

Because plastic bags can’t be recycled in residential blue bins, they often end up in landfills where they don’t readily break down. However, Pedneault — who is completing an undergraduate degree in biology and environmental studies and sciences, with a minor in geography, this year — says bags disturb terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems not only in their original form, but also as they eventually break down into microplastics.

Pedneault has teamed up with the Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba (MMSM) and Winnipeg Harvest Bag it Forward program, which collects thousands of pounds of bags each year for reuse and recycling. Winnipeg Harvest uses the clean bags to create emergency food kits, and turns the ripped or dirty bags into usable plastic products.

The six new Bag it Forward bins on campus were provided by MMSM and are located in the Riddell Hall cafeteria, the Centennial Hall Buffeteria, the Duckworth Centre, the Buhler Centre, the Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex, and the AnX.

Winning this year’s Eco-Grant was a happy surprise for Pedneault, who hopes to get the community surrounding the University involved in the project. While there are a number of supermarkets in Winnipeg that collect plastic bags, many of them are located in the suburbs and are inaccessible to people living downtown.

“People aren’t likely to grab their bags and hop on a bus to go recycle them,” she says. “I’m excited to be able to combine what I’ve learned in my education and put it into practical use and being awarded the grant allows me to be able to do that.”

Now that the program is in full-swing, Pedneault is looking for volunteers to help out with social media, marketing, graphic design, accounting, and bi-weekly bag collecting and sorting. The bags will be delivered to Winnipeg Harvest on a monthly basis.

For more information and to sign up to volunteer, contact Rebecca Pedneault at rebecca.pedneault@gmail.com.

Watch Winnipeg Harvest’s video about the Bag it Forward program:

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3 Comments

  • Sarah Wallace said...

    We are happy to welcome the UW as a partner of the Bag it Forward Program. We look forward to working with Rebecca and the volunteers to keep plastic bags out of the landfills.

  • Andrea Bedard said...

    This is fantastic! I have been holding on to bags in the hopes that someone would re-purpose them! Thank you for being so proactive and adding to the sustainability legacy that the U of W is so committed to.

  • Mary Anne Walls said...

    Great project. I would also really like to see more information on which bags are recyclable through the program. We tend to focus on shopping bags you get at the grocery store, but there are hundreds of other plastic bags coming into our homes, whether they are bags your radishes, potatoes or pasta are packaged in, or bags containing non food items.