|Going, going, gone green|
|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter|
At the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center (LPCC) in Lafayette, Louisiana, inmates in the jail’s plastics manufacturing program are learning job skills that can help them achieve successful reentry into society and a new life. In addition to these opportunities, they’re producing products that might find their way into office buildings and government agency headquarters looking to “green” their operations.
At the program’s 1,500 square foot manufacturing center, ten inmates operate equipment, track inventory, and inspect the quality of a variety of plastics products, mainly trash can liner plastic bags. Recently, the inmates started incorporating biodegradable materials into their manufacturing process. Approximately one third of the plastic bag products produced by the program are now environmentally friendly.
“We’re offering these green products for the first time,” says Sergeant Cynthia Canezaro, the program’s manager. “And actually our governor recently passed some legislature to make our government a green government. So we’re trying to follow that by offering these biodegradable products. Our sheriff’s office has also ‘gone green.’ We use all biodegradable trash bags in our correctional facility and in all of our buildings.”
Amidst the greening success, Canezaro’s program is also breaking new ground. The plastics program at Lafayette is one of the first of its kind at a local jail in the U.S. The turnkey program is the product of a partnership between the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office and Plascon, a Michigan-based plastics manufacturer.
“Biodegradable products are the wave of the future,” says Plascon Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Rastelli. “You actually now see city and state governments not even allowing plastic bags in their buildings unless they are biodegradable. You see it with the Whole Foods grocery totes becoming more and more environmentally friendly.”
Although biodegradable and reusable trash bags seem like a small step towards saving the planet, Rastelli says those small steps will add up over time.
“We have to do something now,” she says. “With the amount of plastic going into landfills, we’re just eventually going to run out of space. This is just a great way to start.”
Canezaro says Lafayette plans to expand its green approach by using recycled paper for its cardboard box products. As the jail slowly expands its green empire, the benefits to inmates continue to add up as well.
“Many of our inmate workers have actually never even held a job before,” Canezaro says. “This gives them a good starting ground for when they do go back into society. This way, they will be more likely to succeed.”
The bags produced are sold to local government agencies and non-profit organizations. Business has been growing steadily since Lafayette began selling them in January. Sales have increased by about ten percent every month. The program now sells its products to nearly 30 customers.
In the world of plastics, Lafayette’s growing success story is a refreshing development for industry veterans like Rastelli.
“I know more about garbage bags than I ever thought possible,” Rastelli says, “but with this program, it’s just wonderful to see individuals get a second chance at life.”
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