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Truckee nonprofit diverting plastic from landfills

Don’t Drop the Top partners with Shane McConkey Foundation to repurpose plastic tops for park-style benches

Volunteers sort through plastic.
Provided/Court Leve

TRUCKEE, Calif. — For the past few years, the Truckee-based Don’t Drop the Top project has been collecting plastic tops in all shapes and sizes at locations throughout Truckee and Tahoe City with the intention of repurposing thousands of pounds of plastic for sustainable park-style benches. 

Recently, 78 volunteers worked in shifts for two days to sort through over 1,300 pounds of plastic the organization collected over a 14-month period. The event was sponsored by the Shane McConkey Foundation and Grocery Outlet, which provided food and beverages for volunteers.

Led by Ashley Perkins, a teacher at Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District, Don’t Drop the Top started as a classroom project for the 2020 Shane McConkey EcoChallenge, a program that inspires and rewards youth for using critical thinking and problem-solving to take on issues that are negatively impacting the environment and their community.  



The award-winning project, which began with Perkins’ students asking the community to dispose of plastic bottle tops in collection bins at high-traffic locations throughout Truckee, has evolved into a community passion project. “The pandemic hit midway through our first collection, so we had to retract our 77 collection bins from around town,” she said. “This didn’t stop people from reaching out to bring us bags of caps. After the first 600 pounds were shipped, the intent was to stop, but the community’s persistence and passion for the project inspired us to keep going.” 

Plastic lids being cleaned and sorted.
Provided/Court Leve

As a result, Perkins formed a partnership with the Shane McConkey Foundation to help take the project to the next level. Together, they created permanent bins to support the most popular collection sites and collaborated to generate more awareness and manage logistics. 



“It’s been so inspirational to see this project really take off,” said Shane McConkey EcoChallenge founder Sherry McConkey. “Ashley’s dedication to keeping this going and her commitment to her students, the community and the environment is so commendable.” 

Building upon what the kids started, the project encourages community members to collect rinsed/clean and dry plastic tops prior to dropping them at collection sites. Current drop-off locations include the Truckee Recreation Center, Truckee Town Hall and New Moon Natural Foods in Truckee and Tahoe City.

According to Perkins, the bins fill up every two to three weeks.

“The bin at New Moon in Truckee fills up nearly every week,” she said. “Every time we empty a bin, it’s about 20 to 30 pounds of caps.”

The caps are gathered from the collection sites and then sorted by hand before they can be repurposed. Acceptable plastics include high and low-density polyethylene and polypropylene. As a rule of thumb, Perkins suggests looking for the reduce, reuse and recycle symbol with numbers two, four and five. Examples include soda and milk jug caps, cream cheese and sour cream lids, and detergent or toothpaste caps. Unacceptable items include anything with metal, fast food tops, drink bottles, medical supplies or medicine bottles, and anything with food, debris or stickers. 

After the plastic is sorted, it’s shipped to a facility where it’s then transformed into sustainable four-foot, park-style benches. According to Perkins, each bench requires about 100 pounds of caps.

“We have made six benches so far, and this next round will bring us to a total of 18,” she said. “That translates to 1,900 pounds of plastic diverted from our landfills.” 

In addition to benches, the group hopes to expand the project to include other things that can be repurposed from plastic caps.

“The goal is to place collection bins throughout the region and get to the point where the project is more self-sufficient,” said Perkins who is currently making weekly collections in her spare time. “We would love to see the business community and municipal organizations get involved by sponsoring a collection bin that they would empty at a central location.”

Benches are available for sponsorship and can be donated or dedicated to organizations, individuals or special places of interest. 

For details about sponsoring a collection bin or investing in a bench for personal, commercial or community space, visit shanemcconkey.org/dont-drop-the-top or email dontdropthetoptahoe@gmail.com.


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