MCC student wants world record on plastic bottle recycling

MANATEE — The thought of a sizable patch of plastic floating in the northwest Pacific Ocean, or the mountain of plastic bottles that end up in landfills every day upsets Shane Henry.

So on April 22 — Earth Day — the Manatee Community College student wants to launch a one-day effort to collect as many plastic bottles as he can for recycling. He aims for a Guinness World Record and is enlisting local schools and community members to achieve that.

“I wanted to start educating people,” said the 21-year-old native of Jamaica. “Initially, I wanted to partner with the school to do something here, but it grew and grew, and now it’s more about getting the community involved to educate them.”

On Earth Day, Manatee County schools will help Henry by trucking most of their collected plastic bottles over to MCC so they can be included in the official count, said Patrick Gallagher, the district’s energy and recycling specialist.

The college is also asking Manatee residents to drop off any plastic bottles they may have at the parking lot of the Bradenton campus off 57th Ave. W.

“My vision for this is to see hundreds and thousands of residents coming out, even if they’re just bringing one bottle and say ‘I want to make a difference,’” he said.

The college’s Earth Club — Henry is a member — hopes the event will generate more awareness of plastic consumption among local residents.

“America is always moving forward toward faster, fancier ways of doing things, but at what cost?” asked Jeff Laborda, a faculty member and club adviser. “The way to make change is to educate.”

The consumption habits of modern Americans must improve, or the consequences will be dire, Henry said.

He cites the enormous flotsam of plastic refuse caught in the whirl of sea currents in the northern Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles away from San Francisco.

The impact on marine wildlife, such as the birds or jellyfish that mistake the debris for food, prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to consider a massive cleanup, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Americans are consuming more and more water in plastic bottles; sales shot up from 15 billion units to 29.8 billion between 2002 and 2005, according to the Washington-based Container Recycling Institute. Eighty percent of the plastic water bottles in the United States ends up in landfills.

“Plastic is one of the few things that cannot biodegrade at all,” Henry said. “The energy and oil it takes to make it is so much, we just need to cut back on the use of it altogether.”

The next best thing to cutting back is to recycle, said Henry, who plans to study social science at the University of Florida.

“We have to reduce and reuse what we have,” he said.

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