How these kids discovered what 1 million bottle caps looked like

The kids at a Saskatchewan school wanted to know what a million of something looked like. Bottle caps were small, free, and available.

Saskatchewan school enlisted the whole community but it still took 4 years to collect them

A million bottle caps in four years

28 years ago
Duration 3:13
Students at a Saskatchewan school wanted to know what a million of something looked like. They found out in 1994.

The kids at the elementary school in Punnichy, Sask., wanted to know what a million of something looked like.

"So then we thought 'well, we'll collect something and see what it is,'" said teacher Doreen Russell. 

They hit on bottle caps because they were "cheap and easy to get," she added.

The collecting began in March of 1991, and it took until November 1994 to reach the 1 million mark.

Everyone pitched in

Members of the local RCMP detachment did their part to contribute to the school's bottle cap collection. (Midday/CBC Arcihves)

At 365 residents at the time, Punnichy was a small town.

Not only did the kids collect caps from beer and pop bottles, but the whole community held on to caps to contribute to the cause.

"People from all over Punnichy, from the hotel to the police station, were collecting bottle caps," said reporter Peter Bohach. "It took years, but they did it."

Russell organized her students into counting teams to keep track of the tally.

A weighty question

Teacher Doreen Russell said the bottle cap collection was inspired by a Grade 4 boy's remark about "millions and billions" of stars. (Midday/CBC Archives)

Once the milestone was reached, kids climbed on the pile in a corner of the school gym, tossed the caps about to make a tinkly sound and invited locals to gawk at the heap.

"Look how high they are!" said a spectator from the town. 

Then it was time for a contest: guess the weight of 1 million bottle caps and win a pizza.

A student estimated the number at 456 pounds, but when the caps were loaded onto a truck and hauled to Punnichy's sole grain elevator for weighing, the answer was more than 10 times that.

"Four thousand, six hundred and forty?" exclaimed Russell, when told the number by the elevator employee. "I thought there was only going to be about 2,000 pounds there." 

Now what?

Local townspeople came out to see the spectacle of a million bottle caps. (Midday/CBC Archives)

Bohach asked what was going to happen next.

"Unfortunately, I think we're going to just end up dumping them," said Russell.

No container could be built that would be durable enough to hold them, she said.

"If it breaks, that means a lot of bottle caps to clean up," she said. "I think we'll just dump them."

More bottle caps are dumped on a table where school kids are busy counting them. (Midday/CBC Archives)