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Turning trash into a teachable moment with the Buddy Bench

February 13, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A community-wide project is looking to teach kids at Beach Elementary School about recycling and help them learn how to deal with bullying, too.

It's called a Buddy Bench, and it's an idea that has grown popular around the world.

The bench, made of 100 percent recycled plastic, is placed on the playground and, when a child doesn't have anyone to play with, they sit on the Buddy Bench, which signals to other kids that they need a friend.

Article Photos

The Lion’s Club is collecting plastic caps to be recycled into a bench that can help kids fight bullying.


It was originally started by Acacia Woodley, an elementary school student from Palm Bay, Florida who was born without complete arms.

The theory behind it is that the solution to bullying is not "anti-bully zones" or "just say no" campaigns, but an emphasis on friendship and connection.

Tamara Glynn, a volunteer at the Lion's Club, came across the idea on Facebook, and reached out to Green Tree Plastics of Indiana for help.

Fact Box

Most plastic caps can be recycled.

Here's a list of unacceptable items:

- Any caps with metal inside

- Drink bottles

- Plastic bags

- Trigger sprayers

- Fast-food drink lids

- Plastic that is not a cap or lid, such as pieces

and parts

- Food containers

- Lotion pumps

- Grocery bags

- Caps or lids with recycle numbers 1, 3, 6 or 7

The company makes furniture out of recycled plastics.

"They have this program where they partner with kids to collect (plastic) caps to teach them about the environment and recycling," she said.

"The teacher has to register with the program, and the kids help collect all the caps and store the caps and learn about recycling, and also learn about bullying and how to prevent it."

"We need about 200 pounds of these caps for one bench, so I thought, OK, the Beach School is going to take forever to do that," she said.

In stepped the FMB Alliance of Non-Profits, an extension of the Women's Club.

"At one of the first meetings, the president of the Lion's Club came and told us about this bottle cap program. I thought it was such a worthy cause," said Jan Fleming.

She set to work organizing the community, placing a drop-off bin at the Women's Club.

Fleming, who currently has a broken leg, attended the Tunaskin Beach Clean-up on a mission to collect caps anyway.

"I showed up with my little sign and I sat there, because I couldn't clean the beach. I gave them doggy bags (to collect them), and I ended up with an overflowing shoebox-full, just in that one morning," she said.

"My goal is to have every business, individual, and condo association on the island providing a container for the plastic lids. If that happens, we will collect 200 pounds of lids by the time school starts in August," she said.

Determined to meet this goal, Fleming reached out to Mike Thomas, program coordinator at Keep Lee County Beautiful, for help.

"We're a little more central in Fort Myers, so I was going to make our location be another drop-off point for the caps," he said.

There are several smaller clean-ups coming up, he said, with a major event on April 13 that saw 900 people volunteering last year.

He hopes their roadside clean-ups will provide a treasure trove of plastic caps for the buddy bench program.

"When you're doing the roadside, you do find a lot of plastic and a lot of bottles..We might have some good luck on that one," he said.

Thomas is intrigued by the project, the first of its kind he's seen in the area.

He's seen people collect plastic to recycle into art work, but not a public project like a bench.

"I think it's a pretty unique idea," he said.

He has started his own collection at home, and hopes he can inspire other people to do the same.

But he stresses that any caps that are dropped off need to be cleaned, or else they won't be recycled.

"If you look at the list, it's pretty significant. It's things you wouldn't realize," he said.

The list includes spout caps from mustard bottles, prescription bottle caps, mayonnaise jar lids, and spray paint caps.

"Most of us don't think about it. If you have a deodorant spray can, a lot of those are not recyclable, but the cap is. You could take the cap off and throw the plastic cap in your recycle container," he said.

"It's such an easy thing to do, and everybody around here is into recycling. What a cool thing for us to see the result," said Fleming.

If you are interested in featuring a collection box at your business or organization, email for more information.



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