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Middle school student finishes recycling project interrupted by pandemic

Marissa Acotto created a bench made from recycled plastic bottle caps. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the project for two years.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Marissa Acotto gently shifted a handful of plastic bottle caps back and forth in her palms. She wore a huge smile on her face while seated at her old stomping grounds.

“When I see these caps, I see a bench being recycled,” said the middle schooler.

Acotto sat in the garden area of Garrison-Jones Elementary School in Dunedin. She sat on the bench she’d delivered, made from 100 pounds of plastic bottle caps and lids. Marissa started the community project during the 2019-2020 school year as a then-fifth grader for her Garrison-Jones gifted class.

“She usually does something big,” said her former teacher Suzanna Daily. “This is the biggest she’s done.”

A rainbow-colored bench was created from the bottle tops Marissa collected. An aspiring veterinarian, she cares about the impact plastic has on sea life, especially sea turtles. Using plastics that could end up in the ocean for good was a fun way to recycle.

“I’m proud of it because I didn’t give up on it even though a pandemic happened,” said Marissa, who is now in seventh grade. “I did some research of what I can do with caps. I was thinking well if these caps are just being in the trash or accidentally thrown in the ocean, why not just recycle it into a bench for anyone to use?”

The bench was a welcomed sight at her old school.

“Our motto here is growing greatness,” said principal Jennifer Tapia, who has been with Garrison Jones Elementary since August. “Being able to give back to her community and her school is phenomenal.”

Marissa’s family made the drive to pick up the bench from the Indiana company that made it. She has already collected 75 pounds of bottle caps for her future benches.

“I have 225 more pounds to collect for three more (benches). I know I want to make one for my middle school, my high school, and maybe my college if they allow a bench,” she said.

Marissa is also collecting pull tabs from soda cans. She plans to sew them onto a dress which she’ll wear to a future event to highlight the need to recycle. As a fourth-grade student, she also collected 72 backpacks and filled them with schools supplies for students at Garrison-Jones Elementary.

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