Environmentalist of the Week – Sammie Vance

This Week’s Environmentalist of the Week

This week, the Environmentalist of the Week goes to the nine-year-old student, Sammie Vance, from Indiana (USA) who inspired us to initiate the bottle cap into benches project under ACT Powai. Sammie started this project as a way to make a “buddy bench” for kids at her school to use to make friendships. So, not only was this a great project for the environment, but also a great community-building activity. It is amazing what people can do when we work together, and all it takes is one person to get it started.

The buddy bench project.

Sammie Vance sitting on her buddy bench outside of her elementary school in Indiana.

Sammie, with the help of her mom, Heidi, reached out to people in her community to send bottle caps in order to make benches for her school. Soon, she started receiving all kinds of plastic lids from places all over the United States and the globe. Making these benches is a way to remove plastic from the environment as it produces a long-lasting sustainable product. The benches are very durable and can survive just about any weather condition, even the snow. At the same time, these benches are far more affordable since they are recycled and they create a community space in which students can form friendships. It is a win-win situation all around.

Bottle caps and lids from all over the country and globe.

We sat down with Sammie and Heidi to find out more about the idea behind the benches and the mechanisms that go into creating them.


Earth5R: How did you come up with the idea to make benches from plastic bottle caps?

Sammie: I went to VBS [Vacation Bible School] and there was a video about the buddy benches and I wanted to do it for my school. Our neighbors did it for their church with the plastic bottle caps and they told us about it.

Heidi: It’s a whole lot cheaper than a normal bench and she thought that getting the community involved with the recycling aspect would be a great thing to help clean up the community.

Earth5R: Where do you collect the bottle caps from?

Sammie: Ball games, and um, pretty much everywhere. All over the United States.

Heidi: I got the word about on Facebook and we started getting them from all over: every state as well as places in Africa. Pharmacies have sent a lot as well.

Earth5R: Who makes these benches for you?

Sammie: One company in southern Indiana.

Earth5R: How many lbs of plastic does it take to make one bench?

Sammie: For a 6-foot bench with a back, it is about 400 lbs.

Earth5R: Is there a specific type of plastic required to make these benches?

Sammie: No, you can also use medicine bottles and a whole bunch of others.

Heidi: Some of the accepted plastics: medicine caps, milk jug caps, flip top caps, detergent caps, toothpaste caps, deodorant caps, anything recycling numbers 2, 4 and 5, etc.

Earth5R: Can you walk me through the process of how the benches are made?

Sammie: We got about 61 bags of caps and we borrowed a trailer from one of our neighbors and brought them to the recycling center and gave them the caps. They grind it down and melt it. They carve it and you can choose a color. I chose yellow for my school colors.

Earth5R: Are you planning to expand this project to anywhere else?

Sammie: Yeah, we want this all around Indian. A lot of schools are trying to get them. I want it everywhere.

Heidi: On our Facebook page, she does “cap talks” live about how to get started. Walgreens is saving all their caps in Indian for this project. Sammie is speaking at one of there events. It is pretty amazing.

Earth5R: What is your message for the children who are studying in schools?

Sammie: It doesn’t always have to be adults that make a difference, it can be kids too. Every plastic cap counts!

From Indiana to India

Once Earth5R heard about Sammie’s project, we decided to start it here in Mumbai immediately. Earth5R collaborates with local recyclers so that all the plastic that is collected during cleanup drives can be recycled instead of sent to a landfill. After learning about the benches, we contacted the recyclers and they were more than happy to get on board.

Thank you, Sammie, for sharing your story with us and showing us how anyone can be an environmentalist and create a change. All it takes is initiative and dedication.

Finished buddy benches at Sammie’s school in Indiana.

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