Kids at Sugg Middle School in Florida don't just learn about history — they make it.
For the last four years, students and faculty at Sugg have celebrated Earth Day by hosting the Recycling Round-Up, an event aimed at collecting as many plastic bottles as possible from throughout the school district over an eight hour period. But what started as a lesson on the possibilities of mass recycling soon turned into a heated competition on an international scale.
When the program first debuted in 2009, spearheaded by Sugg Middle School social studies teacher Shannon DeGaetano, students managed to collect and recycle only 14,000 bottles. Although it was certainly a positive contribution to the environment, it wasn't exactly a remarkable feat. By 2010, however, thanks to some extensive community outreach, that total had spiked to a whopping 5,440 pounds of plastic bottles -- earning the school a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for most plastic bottles collected in eight hours.
By 2011, their efforts in the annual event showed no signs of slowing. At 2011's Recycling Round-Up, schools across Sugg's Manatee School District managed to more than double their record by collecting 11,080 pounds of plastic bottles. But students at Snugg soon learned that they weren't the only ones vying for a place in history.
As it turns out, a group of schools in China had caught wind of Sugg's mass-recycling effort and staged a similar event which collected an astonishing 19,400 pounds of plastic bottle waste. And with that, the Florida school's proud accomplishment was superseded.
Faced with a healthy dose of competition from overseas, students in Sugg Middle School ventured to reclaim their record in 2012 — and with an outpouring of support from the community, they did just that. Between 8am and 4pm on April 26, folks from across Manatee Country arrived to the school in droves to drop off bottles which might otherwise have ended up in the landfill.
"We're getting bottles from everywhere," says DeGaetano. "We've got little old ladies from knitting clubs dropping off bottles. We're still getting calls from people saying, 'I've got a truck full of bottles. Where can I bring them?'"
By the end of the day, the students had once again shattered the record by collecting 29,560 pounds of plastic bottle waste — placing them once again in the Guinness Book of World Records.
"This is a great accomplishment for the district and the staff and students of the schools that participated," says Jennifer Malloy, energy and recycling coordinator for the Manatee district, to the Bradenton Herald. "This was definitely a learning experience for the students and would not have been possible if it were not for our sponsors."
While Sugg Middle School's Recycling Round-Up has helped instill pride in its students since the it was first initiated just four years ago, the benefits of recycling hardly end there. Not only has the recycling program helped keep nearly 47 thousand pounds of plastic bottles from the landfill, but the school district has also profited more $3.2 million dollars from recycling — helping to ensure that while students aren't making history, there will be plenty of added resources for them to learn about it (and other subjects) too.
Read about other innovators and fresh ideas at The Leaderboard. And if you have a story suggestion for the year-long project, please contact us and share your idea.