Recycle - Dan Compas, IRC Custodial Services Coordinator Ann Rieben, and Publix store manager Chris Ellis

Left to Right - Dan Compas, IRC Custodial Services Coordinator Ann Rieben, and Publix store manager Chris Ellis.

VERO BEACH - Last year, the Rotary Club of Vero Beach decided to increase its focus on the environment.

Dan Compas, one of two co-chairs of the club’s Engagement Committee, had an interest in recycling. When he learned about a plastic bag recycling program in Martin County schools, he knew he had to bring that program to Indian River County.

“Kim Brunson, Recycle and Solid Waste Manager at Publix corporate, came to our club and gave us a presentation on what Publix does in recycling,” Mr. Compas told Hometown News. “Martin County had recently started a program to collect plastic bags in schools and deliver them to Publix, which brings them to their recycling center. It was really her idea that generated this collaboration.”

Despite extensive recycling in Indian River County, plastic bags cannot be placed in residential recycling bins, because they clog the recycling machinery. The county schools also already recycled, but they also did not accept plastic bags.

“They just threw them away,” Mr. Compas said. “Most kids bring their lunch in plastic bags, and they dispose of them in the trash can.”

“I went to school Superintendant Mark Rendell, and we talked about recycling. They were already working with the county to recycle other materials like plastic bottles and paper, but they were not recycling plastic bags. Dr. Rendell was very encouraging and very positive about adding that to their recycling efforts.”

“So our Rotary Club acquired for the school system these receptacles that say ‘plastic bags only.’ So the kids, after lunch, put the plastic bags in the receptacle. Each school has a person who then has the responsibility for taking that big plastic bag to their closest Publix. Publix then recycles all those plastic bags.”

The receptacles are now in all Indian River County schools, plus in the Administration Building and in the operational centers. Once the bags are brought to Publix, they get included with the other plastic bags Publix collects, and then they are trucked to their recycling center.

“Both Publix and Rotary understood that environmental awareness can be particularly effective when children are educated about the negative ramifications of plastic,” added Rotary Club of Vero Beach President Michael Kanuka. “Rather than throwing out plastic bags that end up in landfills for hundreds of years, the Publix/Rotary partnership had a vision. A positive difference would clearly be made in the community if children took the initiative or were incentivized to bring household plastic bags to their school.”

The cost of the receptacles was about $2,500, funded through donations from Rotary Club members and sponsors.

Already Mr. Compas is working on expanding the program beyond Indian River County.

“I just got a call from a Rotary Club in Brevard County, and we’re going to help them start this project up there. Hopefully this will expand throughout our Rotary district, which includes Okeechobee, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties. We really want to bring this project to all the schools, and get the collaboration established between those Rotary Clubs in those counties, their Publix stores, and the school systems. We want to replicate what we’ve done here, and then maybe even take it beyond. Publix corporate is very helpful and positive about this collaboration.”

The Rotary Club environmental efforts also focus on working for a healthy Indian River Lagoon. They invite all county residents and businesses to contact them to work together on recycling and lagoon issues.

To learn more about the Rotary Club of Vero Beach or inquire about membership, visit www.rotaryofverobeach.com or find them on Facebook.

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