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San Jose Students to Beautify School with Trash

Students and staff are recycling plastic caps from milk jugs, butter tubs and Gatorade bottles to be used in murals and sculptures that will beautify their school.

City sustainability coordinator Valerie Brown watched a TED Talk a few years back and was floored at what she learned.

Oceanographer Capt. Charles Moore had discovered a expansive plankton-rich patch of floating plastic garbage at sea. It was enough plastic garbage to fill two Texases. He found that currents carry the world’s plastic trash to this common place in the Pacific Ocean, and seabirds were dying with large quantities of plastic caps in their bellies. (Watch TED Talk "Capt. Charles Moore on the seas of plastic" here.)

Brown wanted to do something. So, she asked city employees to remove the caps off everything from their milk jugs and Gatorade or soda bottles to their peanut butter jars and cream cheese or butter tubs before recycling them. 

They collected a whole lot them, Brown said, and ultimately supplied students with enough plastic caps and tops to construct a colorful underwater manatee mural a couple years ago.

Now, ’s “Green Team” is in the process of collecting plastic caps and lids for its own plastic art mural.

Green Team students have drawn pictures of what they want to create from the tops. Some of those renderings will be blown up and cut into plywood as standalone sculptures, and others will be incorporated into a mural, Janine Munns, the school family and community liaison, said.

Since it began at the beginning of March, Munns said, the students have collected … well, a lot of tops from designated bins around the school.

The Green Team began as an afterschool Garden Club more than a decade ago, sponsor Carol Sullivan said. Today the club has grown to about 60 students and meets during school hours for 30 minutes once a month, enough time for “green” to become routine at the most energy efficient school in Pinellas County.

“They listen so well to things that matter,” Sullivan said.

The students regularly care for plants with water collected from rain barrels under the air conditioning units. They planted an organic herb garden last year and recycle everything from empty Capri Suns and plastic materials to paper and aluminum. Munns said the students are also rewarded for behavior that exhibits “strong character.” One prize is the opportunity to plant flowers, which is why mini-flower gardens seen sporadically around school grounds.

“Our school is considered one green team,” Munns said. “All the kids help. How can you say no? To have had such enthusiasm and from such a young age … the enthusiasm is getting younger and younger.”


In addition to bottle caps, San Jose Elementary School is also participating in a countywide competitive paper recycling drive this month.

Drop your paper products in the paper dumpster in front of the school through March 30. Acceptable items include:

  • White OR colored paper
  • Any non-corrugated cardboard like cereal boxes, soda packaging and tothpaste boxes
  • Junk mail
  • Newspapers
  • Paper in packaging
  • Magazines 
  • Phonebooks 
  • Paper towel rolls


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