Preschool students develop ‘green’ bottle cap collecting hobby
August 1, 2010
KITANAKAGUSUKU, Okinawa — A rainbow of plastic bottle caps collected over a week littered the floor recently at an off-base preschool here, where the students soon would turn them over to the Okinawa Ecological Cooperative Association.
The co-op transforms bottle caps into a water-resistant building material that substitutes for plywood. And somewhere in the world, children will benefit from money the co-op donates for vaccinations.
The lesson learned is simple to Cherry Blossom Preschool 5-year-old Emma Smith, who like 27 of her classmates are children of U.S. military families. “We go green, and it helps poor kids,” she said.
The preschool adopted the Cap-for-Vaccine Campaign in February and so far has collected 12,400 caps, said director Tita Uehara.
Once a month, the caps are given to the cooperative. They’re crushed into chips at its facility near Camp Shields before shipping them to a factory on the Japanese mainland that produces a substitute for plywood. The cooperative also donates 20 yen, about 18 cents, for every 400 caps to Japanese charities that provide vaccine through the United Nations Children’s Fund.
During the past year, more than 3 million bottle caps, about 9 tons, went to the co-op from schools, local communities, companies and other organizations throughout Okinawa, saving more than 28.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and providing polio vaccine for about 4,000 children.
Hiroichi Takaesu, a former facilities engineering employee on Camp Foster who now works with the co-op, said he is troubled that most of the buildings on Okinawa are concrete structures that use plywood for cement-pouring framework. He called the practice another contributor to deforestation.
“While people talk about planting trees to save the earth, the more important and effective way is to minimize tree cutting,” he said.
During each week, Cherry Blossom Preschool students collect caps from on- and off-base neighborhoods and from such base facilities as commissaries and convenience stores. They pool their colorful harvest in the classroom each Monday.
But it’s not just a young person’s game.
Victor Saphore, a retired servicemember, collects the bottle caps from neighbors, friends and the local American Legion.
“When I see bottle caps lying around on road, it used to make me angry,” he said. “But not anymore. Now, the trash is treasure.”