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A Bags to Benches Story

IOWA FALLS/CLEAR LAKE, IA (CBS2/FOX28) The city of Clear Lake has come together with several area businesses to embrace recycling. Clear Lake has received grant money from the Build With Bags grant program to purchase 15 benches made of recycled plastic for four city parks.  Theyve received the benches over the past three years, winning grant money each of the years. Eight benches were installed the first year, four last year and three this year. The benches can be found at Fieldstone Park, Armour Pugh Park, Pine Tree Park and Tourist Park all in Clear Lake.  The Build With Bags program began just four years ago.
The benches for the program were made by Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls. Plastic bags used by the company to make the benches come from a recycling project of The Iowa Grocery Industry Association. Grocers in Iowa have teamed up to place bins for folks to recycle their shopping  bags in front of area grocery stores. The primary goal was to keep more bags out of landfills. In Clear Lake, the Clear Lake Fareway was one of the teammates for the city on their grant proposal. Fareway Manager, Rodney Bernard, said customers have been excited about the effort to find new purpose for the bags.
Its a great thing, good thing, always recycle! Bernard said.
It takes Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls nearly 11,000 plastic bags to make each of the benches. 
 Some days they call me Maximum Bob, Bob Mestdagh the Vice President of Production for Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls said.
Thats because when Mestdagh sees an old bag, he sees raw material.
We get slaps on the back all the time. You know, doing a good job, saving the environment, Mestdagh said. 
The Build With Bags program gives grants to cities for plastic furniture like benches and tables at parks and schools. All of it is made in part out of plastic bags. 
We buy them by the truckload, 40,000 lbs in a truck, Mestdagh explained.
The bags are then used in everything from speed bumps to tables to benches with engravings.
The company said the process to make a bench is kind of like baking a cake. They start with the shredded bags then mix other recycled products in to go into the mold. For the recycled benches, their final home is often in state and city parks.  
Weve had people show up and comment on how neat the program is and not only are we getting benches, its also a benefit to the environment as well, Randy Miller, the Clear Lake Parks and Recreation Director said.
He explained that the grants Clear Lake has received help the city buy new benches. Without the grants, they would only be able to fix and restore the benches they already have.
Its kind of a win, win for everybody you know. We have raw material to make our products, people get to enjoy them in the parks, Mestdagh said.
Plus, the benches are durable and have a long life.
Basically, its just like plastic going into the landfill, it doesnt break down, so when the benches go out there, theyre basically going to last forever, Susan Waters, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls said. 
The benches cost $250 each. Cities can receive up to a $2,000 grant each year to purchase outdoor equipment made from  Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls. Miller explained that the more partners an applicant works with on a grant proposal, the more likely they are to be chosen for the grant. 
Build With Bags Partners include the Iowa Grocery Association, Keep Iowa Beautiful, The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Metro Waste Authority, The Des Moines Register, and Plastic Recycling of Iowa Falls. 

 
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