In the spirit of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the multi-year campaign to “End Plastic Pollution,” the students at Terra Environmental Research Institute in Kendall have completed an enormous project which both embraces and highlights this very theme.


    Since 2011, the ninth grade students in Deborah Hibbitt’s English classes have been collecting reusing, re-purposing and recycling thousands of pieces of plastic — the final tally this year is close to 70,000 items.


    Through this massive collection process, the students have learned about the different types of polymers in plastic, how each type of plastic is used, the safety issues of each type, and the best way to recycle or reuse each one. Because recycling is a complicated business, the students have learned how to recycle clean, well sorted plastic in the proper way.


    This year, the students focused, not only on the usual plastic #5 used for yogurt and other dairy and store-bought containers, but also on the massive numbers of beverage cups purchased at local fast food restaurants and coffee shops.


    Because fast food companies such as McDonalds and Burger King and popular coffee spots like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts do not take the responsibility to recycle their own used plastic cups, the students made it their business to collect, clean and recycle as many of these cups as possible.


    Ironically, these cups are plastic #5 which makes them one of the most recyclable plastics produced. Presently, the students have collected 1,970 cups: 1,115 Starbucks, 146 McDonalds, 81 Burger King, 68 Dunkin Donuts, and 560 cups from various other restaurants.


    Finding a place to recycle hundreds of these cups was not easy since the school’s Dade County bins are not for plastic #5. One place willing to take the plastic, however, is in the school’s community — Wholefoods. The plastic collected by the students is bagged in special blue bags, then dropped off at Wholefoods central location for statewide recycling. It then makes its way to the Preserve Company in New York where it will all be recycled into new items.


    Wholefoods collects plastic #5 in its stores, but the Terra students’ contribution probably will surpass any of Wholefoods’ usual collections. Working with a company like Wholefoods that helps facilitate recycling has been an inspiration to the students and could be an example to other companies to help rid the earth of deadly plastic refuse.


    Other items such as chip bags, detergent lids, electronic devices, contact lens cases, and medicine bottles and caps will be recycled through TerraCycle, a company in New Jersey that partners with schools to recycle. While everyone can do his or her part in keeping plastic out of the landfills and out of the ocean, Terra students are making a difference.