This plastic cap recycling contest turns possible trash into a teaching moment

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Every school year, the city's Operation Green Team encourages schools in Huntsville city limits to participate in a plastic cap recycling contest.

This contest makes for more environmentally responsible students and a nicer place for us all to live.

Registration begins in September each year and the contest ends in March. It's an opportunity to turn possible trash into a teaching moment through recycling.

Students bring the plastic caps from home, and they come in by the thousands.

"A water bottle cap, or like an orange juice cap, or a milk carton cap, anything that's screw on we can recycle," explained Blossomwood Elementary student Anna Beth Henrich.

Part of what's so great about the program is any and every student can participate and help fundraise for their school in the process.

"When we collect these, it keeps our environment more safe, and we don't have as much plastic in our landfills," said student Sarah Collins-Sanders.

And there's nothing like some friendly competition to keep everyone motivated.

Individual classrooms collect the plastic caps, then they're grouped together by grade. The caps are piled into buckets which represent an average number of caps. The final tallies are impressive-- reaching the hundreds of thousands. The grade with the highest number of caps collected wins an ice cream party at the end of the year.

But, more importantly, this contest teaches students that they can make a difference!

"They go into landfills, and sometimes they go into oceans, and sea creatures think it's food, they eat it, and that's not very good," Henrich said.

Operation Green Team collects the caps from each school and sends them on trucks going to Troy, Ala. to a plastics recycling company, KW Plastics. KW Plastics is the largest plastic recycler in the world! The caps are made into new plastic paint containers that you will see on the shelves of Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart stores.

Last year, schools collected more than 13 million plastic caps during the contest.

Caps must be plastic and the twist on/off type. These are found on plastic bottles of juice, milk, ketchup, laundry detergent, water, soda, peanut butter, shampoo, and toothpaste, etc… and can be any shape, color or size. Caps cannot have metal of any kind in them. To participate in the contest schools must count your caps before Green Team picks them up from your school. To be eligible to win schools must report the number of caps collected to Green Team.