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Green Teen


On weekends, you’ll find Mateo Lange sorting through bottles and cans. Mateo, 15, leads a community recycling program in Indian River, Michigan, his hometown.

OPERATION: TRASH Mateo (left) and his sister sort through bottles and cans outside their home.


Mateo launched the program in 2020. He was 11 and in sixth grade. He was playing baseball with the Northern Michigan Cyclones. The team needed money to travel to tournaments. Mateo pitched a plan.

“There were cans and bottles always thrown around the road,” he tells TIME for Kids. In Michigan, these can be collected. Then they can be redeemed for cash. Mateo started a bottle and can drive. His dad helped. They raised $7,500. “We built up so much money,” Mateo says. “So I said, ‘Why don’t we keep this going?’”

TRAVEL MONEY Mateo started his recycling project in 2020 to raise funds for his baseball team, shown here.


Since then, Mateo’s recycling effort has raised $350,000. And it has helped at least 50 youth groups. It has collected more than 2 million bottles and cans. It has kept them from littering Michigan’s roadsides. It has kept them out of lakes and rivers.

PROTECTING WATERWAYS Mateo cares about keeping plastic pollution out of rivers and lakes.


Cash for Trash

Michigan has a beverage container deposit law. If you return an empty soda can or water bottle to the store, you get 10¢. In 2022, the state’s return rate was nearly 76%.

Container laws are intended to reduce litter and protect the environment. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan paused its return program. “All these big stores weren’t letting people bring their bottles and cans back,” Mateo says. “People just had to pile them up in their garage.” His bottle and can drive let people drop their returnables outside his dad’s office.

Matteo and his dad also did pickups. “We would borrow my grandpa’s truck,” Mateo recalls. “I’d just run [out], knock on the door, and say, ‘I’m here to pick up.’” They’d throw the bottles and cans in their truck. They’d sort them. Then they’d return them to the beverage distributors for reimbursement. “It was actually a lot of fun,” he says, “especially in the summertime.”

FAMILY ASSISTANCE Mateo’s sister and father have helped him with his recycling project.


Helping Hands

In 2023, Mateo was awarded a Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. It honors kids and teens who help others and protect Planet Earth.

“It feels humbling,” Mateo says, when asked about all he’s accomplished. “I am happy knowing that all these teams and clubs and kids around the community are benefitting.”

He believes everyone can—and should—be of service. “Just do a little bit to help make the world a little bit of a better place,” he says. “Be creative,” he adds. “Have an idea and build on it.”


We’re looking for students who are planning to complete acts of service in their community this summer. Ready for a challenge? Click here to find out how to play Service Stars Bingo!