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Students' recycling efforts pay off
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown shows First United Methodist Church students a recycled plastic fleece jacket during Thursday’s awards ceremony. Looking on are: from left, United Way of the Coastal Empire Board Chairman Bobby Ryon, Keep Liberty County Beautiful Director Sara Ann Swida, Keep Liberty County Beautiful Advisory Council Chair Terri Willett, First United Methodist Church Pastor Rev. Doug Force and Liberty County Solid Waste Director Dave Sapp. - photo by Photo by Alena Parker.
The corporate office for Keep America Beautiful announced a Liberty County school has ranked nationally in the 2008 Return the Warmth Program. First United Methodist Pre-K and Kindergarten placed 19th in the national plastics recycling effort, with approximately 1,000 schools competing in the nation.  
Return the Warmth is a recycling project for plastic bottles made of recyclable PET plastic. Keep America Beautiful coordinates the national effort, in conjunction with national sponsors Aquafina and Sam's Club. Locally, Keep Liberty Beautiful and the United Way of the Coastal Empire coordinated the effort with the five schools that participated for 2008.
The local effort was supported by grant funds through a Healthy Community Grant from Ward Edwards, a regional engineering firm.   
According to Leah Poole, Liberty County United Way director, these funds "were critical in providing collection containers and incentives for the participating schools."  
Lewis Frasier Middle School, Midway Middle School, Bradwell Institute and Liberty County High School, in addition to First United Methodist Pre-School, led a community drive to collect 6.2 tons of plastic from March 1-May 31.
First Methodist Pre-School, which has a school population of 75 children, collected 3,307 pounds of plastics for the project. The rankings across the nation are based on the ratio of pounds of plastics collected in relation to the number of students at the school.
“The schools participate in this program to make a difference in our community. This is the third year that our schools have been involved in this project. Each year they have increased the number of tons collected," Poole said.
 The project is not just a contest, though.
"This project is a great educational tool for the students and their families. Our community-wide support of this project has ignited an increased interest in recycling in the schools and in Liberty County in general,” said Sara Ann Swida, director of Keep Liberty Beautiful.
The top 50 schools in the nation each receive a $1,000 Sam's gift card as well as 250 fleece jackets to distribute to children in their communities who may need winter jackets. The PET plastics  are commonly used in manufacturing items like beverage bottles. This collection effort focuses on recycling plastics into the fleece jackets the students will distribute, which is how the contest came to be called "Return the Warmth."
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