Bradenton school regains world recycling record

MANATEE — The Manatee School District, led by Sugg Middle School, has unofficially shattered the previous world record for plastic bottle recycling, collecting more than 29,500 pounds over an eight-hour period Thursday.

“I am absolutely speechless,” said a teary-eyed Shannon DeGaetano, the Sugg social studies teacher who first began the bottle-collecting effort in 2009. “I am so overjoyed and proud of my students.”

The collection topped the previous world record, set last year by a coalition of 120 elementary schools in China, by more than 10,000 pounds. Organizers credited a districtwide effort and a supportive community: 11 schools helped collect bottles throughout the year, and community members were dropping off bags and piles of bottles even throughout Thursday, during Sugg’s eight-hour counting period.

“We were hoping all day,” said Sugg Principal Sharon Scarbrough. “And as the day went on, we realized, ‘We’re not even going to break the record; we’re going to shatter it.’”

Patrick Gallagher, the school district’s energy recycling specialist, credited special efforts such as Bayshore Elementary School teacher Robbin Hair, whose family alone collected more than 7,000 plastic bottles, for pushing the district back into first place.

Gallagher said Lakewood Ranch also stepped up its collection efforts this year. All in all, Sugg had 21 dumpsters of bottles on its campus Thursday.

“We were definitely surprised at the numbers,” he said. “There was a rush of bottles at the end, but more than anything, so many more schools were on board right after the end of last year’s round-up.”

Sugg celebrated its record-breaking effort Thursday with a western-themed event that featured Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal greeting students in a cowboy hat and bandana atop a horse, and all Sugg students helping to count bottles.

The official count of pounds collected came courtesy of Waste Pro, one of several sponsors of the event, who weighed the bottles at its facility. While it wasn’t necessary for students to count the bottles, Gallagher said the counting did provide an opportunity for school officials to build formulas and math practice into the event. “It also helps reinforce to the students the impact they’re having on landfills and the environment,” he said.

A Manatee County recycling official and a school resource officer were on hand to witness the day, which also was videotaped and photographed. Gallagher said a packet documenting the day will be sent to the Guinness Book of World Records in London on Monday or Tuesday, and official notification of the new world record should arrive within days of the packet’s submission.

DeGaetano began the bottle collection effort in 2009 as a way to reinforce the school district’s new curriculum focusing on community service and environmental impact. That first year, the school collected just 14,000 bottles. It set the world record in 2010 by collecting more than 5,400 pounds of bottles, then more than doubled its effort in 2011 with more than 11,000 pounds collected. The coalition of 120 Chinese elementary schools captured the record in March 2011.