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Bottle Brigade raises money to restore Braddock library

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Kacie Axsom
Thursday, August 30, 2007

John Hempel doesn’t drink soda. But the University of Pittsburgh biologist has helped to collect about 6,500, 20-ounce soda bottles to help the environment and raise money for restoring the Braddock Carnegie Library.
Hempel sends the bottles to New Jersey-based TerraCycle as part of its Bottle Brigade program. TerraCycle makes and distributes lawn and garden fertilizer — essentially worm poop, as company publicist Paul D’Eramo puts it.

The company gathers the waste matter and puts it in tanks with hot water and extracts nutrients from it, D’Eramo said. They package it in those reused bottles from about 3,800 groups such as Hempel’s.

TerraCycle sends empty boxes that can hold as many as 70 bottles to Bottle Brigade participants, which includes schools and nonprofits. Groups fill their boxes, and twice each year, TerraCycle sends a check for 5 cents per bottle to the school or charity of their choice, and 6 cents per bottle if they have been washed and de-labeled. That means every filled box is worth $3.50 to $4.20 for a charity.

Hempel’s chosen cause is the Braddock Carnegie Library, because he is the vice president of Braddock’s Field Historical Society, which owns it. He and his colleagues at Pitt have placed barrels around their department and have earned about $370 to go toward restoration projects.
That $370 could buy fewer than two seats in the library’s music hall, Hempel said. It’s also about $30 shy of the $400 needed to replace one of the 39 window sashes.

“Relative to the amount of money the music hall restoration needs, it disappears in the decimal dust,” Hempel said. “It’s at least a way of bringing in a trickle of money, and it’s satisfying.”

Hempel maintains a personal compost pile and recycles newspapers, bottles, cans and Styrofoam, he said. He also sprays the TerraCycle product on his orchids.

“In many ways, (recycling is) easier than lugging a bag of smelly stuff down to the curb,” he said.

Laurel Roberts is a lecturer at Pitt and has been collecting bottles with Hempel for about eight months. She estimates she’s collected 300 to 400 in that time.

She told her students about the project and where they can find a collection bin, and when she’s out walking her dogs in her Highland Park neighborhood and sees a bottle, she picks it up.

“It’s easy, and it’s actually fun,” Roberts said. “When you find one, it’s almost like a scavenger hunt.”

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