Otsego County Conservation Association, in conjunction with the Otsego County Department of Solid Waste and Recycling, Casella Resource Solutions, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, and Otsego 2000 announced the winners of the first annual Otsego County Plastic Bag Challenge on April 13.
This year’s winners of the challenge are the elementary and middle/high school of Gilbertsville-Mt. Upton School District.  Together, these two schools collected over 1700 pounds of plastic with the elementary school collecting 1382 pounds itself.
In total, 13 Otsego County schools participated in the three-month challenge, collecting over 4000 pounds of film plastic.  The contest ran from January 1 through April 1. The winners will receive a visit from the Utica Zoomobile. 
"We’re so proud of these teachers, students and their families for making the conscience choice to recycle plastic bags and film plastics properly," said Leslie Orzetti, OCCA's executive director. "Congratulations to all the participants, but especially to the Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Community."
During the challenge, students and teachers were asked to collect clean, dry film plastic, including single-use grocery bags, Ziploc-style food bags, newspaper bags, wood pellet bags and more in bins at the school provided by Casella Resource Solutions. Students weighed and recorded the amount of film plastic collected each week, and a volunteer delivered the collected plastic to a participating retailer for recycling. The material is recycled into new bags, composite lumber, pipes and other plastic products.
New York State has required retailers that meet certain conditions to collect and recycle single-use plastic bags since 2009. The law was expanded in 2015 to include a wider range of film plastics. “The challenge was launched to make Otsego County residents more aware of film plastic recycling,” said Karen Sullivan, director of Otsego County's Department of Solid Waste and Planning.
"We find many people still don't know they can recycle their plastic bags and film plastics," Sullivan said. "It's also important for people to know this is the only option for recycling film plastics. They can't put it in their recycling bin or take it to the transfer stations."
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year. Only about 1% are recycled.
"Even though the challenge is over, we’re hopeful that the community will continue to recycle their bags and film plastics," Orzetti said.
Information about what kinds of bags and plastic films can be recycled and where they can be taken can be found at plasticfilmrecycling.org.