ROCHELLE — Dennis Swinton of Rochelle and Kiwanis Golden K has spent the past three years heading up a plastic bottle cap recycling program with youth clubs and donors in the community. The project has yielded six benches.
The endeavor started when Swinton was working with the Rochelle Township High School Key Club on a service project as a surprise for its advisor, Danae White.
“She was going to retire,” Swinton said. “We decided to do a service project, and I saw online where you could collect bottle caps and get a bench. The kids said, 'Hey, let's make it for her.' She didn't know we were all collecting them. The bench is out behind the high school on the bike path. It's got a plaque on it for her. That's how we got started. And then it grew from there.”
The program requires 200 pounds of donated bottle caps to build a bench and a cost of $275 plus about $100 for transportation costs and more.
Kiwanis sponsors the Builders Clubs at Rochelle Middle School and at elementary schools in Kings and Creston. Swinton decided to ask them if they wanted to participate in collecting bottle caps in exchange for a bench at their school. They did, and benches followed.
Swinton and company then collected caps for benches marked in honor of the Rochelle Police Department and Rochelle Fire Department that have been installed at Railfan Park.
“Now we're thinking about collecting them to get picnic tables made,” Swinton said. “I’ll let the kids decide and I'll go around and make a presentation to each of them and ask what they want to do. I found out yesterday that the middle school already has 90 pounds of caps. We have a lot that need to be sorted here in our shop. If I get 90 pounds and what I have here, I probably have enough for another bench. It's amazing."
Swinton said the project had grown into more than what he originally expected. At his home on School Avenue, he leaves a place outside for residents to donate bottle caps.
“A little old lady comes by at least once a week and drops a bag off in my driveway,” Swinton said. “A couple of our Kiwanis members are at Liberty Village and they take buckets out there and collect throughout the facility. People all over help out. It's unbelievable."
Swinton called seeing the community’s support of the project “awesome.” When money was needed to pay for the cash portion of the benches, he went to Mayor John Bearrows to ask if he knew anyone who may be interested in helping. That same day, Bearrows secured a $1,500 donation from Rochelle Disposal’s employees and the city matched that amount.
“That paid for the six benches we've done,” Swinton said. “It's been awesome."
Students at the grade schools collect the caps and bring them in bags. And then members of the RTHS Key Club sort them and fill a bag and weigh them and tag it and get it ready.
So far, 1,200 pounds of bottle caps have been made into benches. The sorting process can be very time consuming, Swinton said.
Swinton believes the “well-built” benches will last forever. He can see the one that was placed at RMS from his home.
“People actually use it,” Swinton said. “I look over there once every while and there's a couple kids sitting there waiting for their parents to pick them up on that corner. It's a good feeling to say, 'Hey, look. They're using it.' It's not just sitting there doing nothing. The ones at the rail park get a lot of use. I saw a guy there sitting on one of them playing music. They're being used. And for good things. It's a neat deal."