Bags to Benches: Lions Club project reaps the rewards of good stewardship

— Created April 14, 2021 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

It’s more than just a big deal. It’s also a good deal for everyone who’s involved in the Oak Harbor Lions Club “Bags to Benches” recycling project. 

Hold on, can such an “animal” really exist?

Very decidedly “yes”, according to Bobbi Lornson of the Oak Harbor Lions Club.

Lions Club organizations of course undertake diverse community projects and always have. Campaigns to provide vision support services, prevent diabetes, and provide educational scholarships to youth are just some examples. The Oak Harbor’s Lions Club is also famous for the Christmas tree sale fundraiser it holds each year. 

The year-long pandemic, however, motivated the Lions Club’s search for an outreach it could promote while staying within CDC health guidelines, said Lornson.

“A USA/Canada Lions’ Forum featured what I believed would be a great recycling project for us to sign on for,” she said.  “For every 500 pounds of plastic sacks people donate, the Lions receive in return a very nice bench from Trex (a manufacturer of outdoor decking and patio furniture).”

According to the Trex website, the benches are constructed of polywood, a blend of reclaimed wood and recycled plastic. The durable material won’t absorb moisture, splinter, or rot, and is weather and environmentally resistant. Plus, the benches, along with other outdoor furniture in the product line, is made in the USA.

Since plastic is a major component of polywood, that’s where the recyclable plastic grocery bags come in.

“Formerly, many grocery stores provided this recycling service for their customers. But early on, Coronavirus restrictions forced them to curtail operations, which left people with few other options. As a result, shoppers have a lot of plastic bags cluttering up their homes and garages,” Lornson said.

It seems more than just a nice touch of irony. A pandemic that shut down one avenue for recycling plastic has resulted in some unexpectedly good benefits anyway. Lornson noted the Lions’ recycling effort pays off in multiple ways.

 First, it benefits consumers and the public who need a reliable, local point at which to recycle their bags. Second, it provides a source of recycling material to industries such as Trex desiring to turn plastics into viable, useful materials. And third, best of all outcomes, it prevents a great deal of roadside littering and waterway pollution, which is where many of those plastic bags can unfortunately end up.

Surrounded by water as we are on Whidbey, it’s no wonder the recycling idea has been so energetically embraced by island residents at large. According to Lornson, the idea has proven to be a resounding success.  

 “It’s ballooned into a ‘Whidbey Island’ project,” she said.  “The response has been just tremendous. We can definitely divert a lot of plastic waste away from landfills.”

Organizers of the Bags to Benches effort believe the benches are sure to give welcome respite to many Whidbey Island visitors and residents.  The question is, where will they end up being placed?

Not only does the public play an important role in donating plastic bags for benches, they’ll also have a voice as to where the benches will be located, according to Lornson.

 “We are hoping to see some nominations from the public as to where they would like to see these benches placed,” she said.  “Perhaps we will eventually have people vote on their top suggestions for placement locations.”

People are invited to drop off their plastic bags at one of several convenient collection sites including the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Wallin-Stucky Funeral Home (Oak Harbor and Freeland locations), or the Oak Harbor Lions Club storage facility at 3063 N. Oak Harbor Road. The bags must be clean, dry and free of food and organic residue. If the bags are marked with a number 2 or 4, they are recyclable. Other items that can also be recycled include produce bags, ice bags, Ziploc® and other reclosable bags, cereal liners, bread bags, dry cleaning bags and even bubble wrap.

According to Lornson, the Oak Harbor Lions Club has collected enough plastic bags to exchange for one bench already, and they’re aiming for at least four more. She encourages people who’d like to donate to refer to the OH Lions website for more information, but also adds a couple of personal tips of her own.

“Pack as many bags together as you can.  And all the bags we accept may be placed inside of other plastic bags,” she said.

For many, recycling is a smart, responsible choice anytime of the year. Since April 22is Earth Day, that may be additional incentive for anyone considering ways to help out.

For more information about the Oak Harbor Lions Club’s Bags to Benches project, refer to its website at or find them on Facebook.