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Recycled tote idea brings group award from national conference

Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, July 11, 2010

Updated: Sunday, July 11, 2010 15:07

Central Florida Future

Andy Ceballos

By turning old T-shirts into reusable "T-tote" bags, Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions won best campaign of the year at the 2010 Campus Progress National Conference.

Campus Progress is a national organization that promotes progressive solutions to political and social issues. At the national conference held in Washington, D.C., on July 7, the organization presented Chris Castro, a senior environmental science major and co-founder and president of the UCF student organization I.D.E.A.S., with the award along with fellow co-founder and public relations adviser Henry Harding, also a senior environmental science major.

"This award gives [I.D.E.A.S.] some well-deserved recognition, not just locally," Castro said. "It gives us more energy to continue what we are doing. This grant gives us the finical support to carry on initiatives, and it is rare to find someone willing to help you develop an idea you have."

T-totes were developed as an alternate solution to plastic bags and are designed to reduce dependency on petroleum-based plastic and educate students.

"We really focused on educating people about the problems of petroleum plastic," Castro said. "We offer them a simple sustainable solution that they can use."

The T-totes was one of more than 300 grant idea applications submitted to Campus Progress and one of about 40 to be approved, according to Natasha Bowens, an advocacy associate at Campus Progress. From those approved, it was chosen as best campaign because of its success.

"[Campus Progress] works with these groups through the year and monitors their success, sees if they're achieving the goals they submitted to us in their grant applications, if they've received media attention," Bowens said. "To determine the best campaign, we see who was most successful and who achieved their goals and had an impact on their community, and this year, it was I.D.E.A.S.

"They have some of the most active students in our energy action collation and are some of the most reliable."

In addition to their award, both Castro and Harding attended the conference and got to introduce a keynote speaker. They also tabled at the event, introducing students across the county to I.D.E.A.S. and T-totes.

T-totes may not have been the brainchild of the first student sustainability alliance, but it is I.D.E.A.S. who developed it.

While working as a student ambassador for the U.S. Department of Energy, Castro was encouraged to attend the Campus Progress National Conference and join its action alliance committee by writing a grant for an environmentally conscious initiative.

Castro then composed the grant himself in two weeks, submitting it in mid-October 2009.

The grant was approved in late November and provided I.D.E.A.S. with $1,500 to purchase a sewing machine and sewing supplies to begin making their T-totes.

The group received an additional $500 in the spring based upon the success of its mid-year report.

Since December, I.D.E.A.S. on the UCF campus as well as sibling clubs at Penn State and Florida International University have together produced more than 300 bags, according to Castro.

I.D.E.A.S. creates the totes on demand and will make students complimentary totes if they bring in a bundle of plastic bags to be recycled by UCF Recycling.

They plan to continue their T-totes initiative and receive funding for the project through Campus Progress.

"We are going to continue this initiative," Harding said. "No one has heard or seen something as unique as T-totes. There is really no alternative bag use in Florida. We want to be one of those organizations that helps wean off dependency."

Each T-tote is made by cutting the sleeves and neck off and then sewing the bottom together to form a bag. Each bag takes about three to five minutes to construct "if everything is working right and the sewing machine isn't acting odd," Harding said.

In an effort to live up to what it preaches, I.D.E.A.S. repurposes all its tote by-products, like cast-off sleeves, into hair bands and bracelets, and, come fall, its sewing machine will be completely off the grid.

Through a partnership with Pur Energy, a renewable energy solutions company, I.D.E.A.S.' sewing machine will run off solar-power panels.

Should Florida ever decide to go the way of Washington, D.C., and begin taxing the use of plastic bags by retailers, I.D.E.A.S. has you covered.

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