"The chair is the educational piece that's associated with the program. The chairs are simply to get the word out about the program," he explained.
Sponsors, including Metro Recycling, Homewood Disposal, and Pratt Industries, are actually underwriting the cost of the chairs given to the schools. Money from the grant is going for new recycling carts and equipment as well as updated technology to track recycling participation.
"The plastic chairs, the end products, are donated to the schools so each and every kid, even if they brought in one plastic Coke, Sprite bottle cap, can say, 'I helped make that chair. I had something to do with that chair,'" Lisek said.
"The hardest thing to change on earth is human behavior, and studies show that a lot of different behavior changes can stem from children. By this, we'll be able to educate the children on how recycling should work, what we can and what we should reduce. That's the whole educational piece," he said.
Cap-etition, while novel in its approach, is tackling a bit of a vexing issue in the world of plastics recycling. For years, recyclers told people to remove their caps before recycling because equipment of the time could not handle mixed plastic streams. Beverage bottles commonly are PET, while caps are often HDPE.
And once caps are removed, they typically end up in the trash, even if they are still put in the recycling bin separately.
These days, sortation concerns are evaporating and recyclers typically want the caps to remain on the bottles. Keeping the caps on bottles allows them to travel through equipment at material recovery facilities without being mistaken for small pieces of trash and sent to the landfill. Those caps can then make it to plastic reprocessors as one way to ensure recycling.
While caps do not weigh much compared to other recyclables, the program is part of a larger city push to boost its overall diversion rate from the current 52 percent to a goal of 70 percent.
Barbagallo has been in the plastic hand chair business for nearly 20 years, first selling products made by Rotonics Manufacturing and later acquiring his own mold. He teamed up with E-Z Rotational Molder about four years ago.
"Once this program gets going, we feel there is going to be a ton of interested parties and we're going to have tons and tons of caps," Lisek said.
Sut said schools need to divert 400 pounds of caps to be eligible for a hand chair for a particular reason. That's because the program originally was going to transform them into much heavier benches.
But Sut was looking for a more unique way to gain attention.
"For us, it came out even better than benches," she said.