To an oblivious observer, the new bench at McVey Elementary School might just look like a place to sit down, but for students, it is the culmination of months of work.
Since November, students at the Newark school have collected 127 pounds of plastic headed for the landfill and transformed the waste into a bench that can be enjoyed for years to come.
Earlier this month, McVey students celebrated their accomplishment with an assembly unveiling the ocean blue bench they created in partnership with Eco Plastics Products of Delaware, a Wilmington company that recycles plastic bags into benches, picnic tables, bike racks and other plastic products.
Teacher Paul Sedacca said students were inspired to start the project after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how fish can die after swallowing bags.
“All of the breakfasts and all the lunches were being served in these white plastic bags, hundreds of bags every single day, and it bothered me on a personal level,” Sedacca said. “When the students learned about garbage patches, it started to bother them, too. I taught them that when something bothers you, you have to at least make an effort to do something about it.”
Sedacca’s 17 third-graders who led the effort – a group he dubbed the “Room 11 Plastic Patrol” – joined him on stage at McVey to unveil the bench. Sedacca even grabbed his guitar and led them in singing the McVey school song.
The students’ environmental consciousness goes beyond just the confines of McVey.
“At recess, if they see plastic, they bring it in. They bring plastic in from home. They notice the plastic at the sides of the road,” Sedacca said. “Once you’re part of this, you can’t not see the plastic everywhere.”
Brittney Gordon, vice president of her class, said that the bench represents how objects that would normally be thrown away, possibly ending up in the ocean, were used for something good.
“Plastic has to go somewhere,” said Gordon. “It does not disappear.”
Gordon said collecting plastic became fun for the class, especially because they knew it would go toward a good use.
The students had a special bin in the cafeteria to collect items for the project, along with boxes in the hallway for plastic items. Sedacca said he was partially inspired by the amount of plastic bags used by the school system, as the cafeteria uses plastic bags to bring students their breakfasts and lunches every day.
Jim Kelley, co-founder of Eco Plastics, said the company has worked with schools in the past, but Sedacca was the first teacher in the area to work with the company. He said the bench contains the equivalent of 30,000 plastic bags.
“This is how it starts. You have to get the young people to understand what the issues are and have them do something about it,” Kelley said. “They can be very proud of that bench. It’s from the plastic they collected.”
Students also raised enough money to plant 201 trees in the Pacific northwest and midwest.
Sedacca hopes the program can expand until every school has its own “plastic patrol,” so hundreds of thousands bags can be turned into benches.
“One teacher at every school,” Sedacca said. “That’s all I’m looking for.”