Glacial melt, climate swings, floating continents of plastic waste; as we stop to recognize Earth Day it’s easy to feel environmentally impotent. The scale of the issues we face is enormous. It’s bigger than all of us, yet it’s composed of the seemingly minor decisions we make each day.
We recently watched a movie trailer for Chris Jordan’s feature-length film about his journey to Midway Atoll. Midway is a nesting refuge for seabirds that also happens to be located in the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an eddy of modern plastic waste. The islands’ birds mistake the plastic for food and feed it to their chicks (about 5 tons of it each year) who often die as a result.
Watch the video trailer, and you’ll see a familiar object repeatedly appear in the bellies of the birds photographed by Jordan: the plastic screw-top bottle cap. It’s an object most of us use every day. These little conveniences of modern packaging happen to make excellent boats. They flow into the open ocean where they journey with the currents until they’re snapped up and swallowed.
In recognition of Earth Day, we spent the past five days retrieving discarded caps from around our neighborhood. By collecting and recycling them, we know these caps won’t end up on the beach or in the diet of baby seabirds. It’s a small gesture, but one we know can have a real and immediate influence on the health of the Pacific.
What We Found:
- Bottle cap recycling is somewhat complex. We’ve found a good recycling center resource that provides locations for drop-offs.
- We should choose alternate packaging options such as reusable containers or select products in more environmentally-friendly packaging.
- It’s not too much to ask that leaders like Coca Cola and Pepsi find a solution to the problem. Both companies focus significant resources on corporate citizenship, including packaging and plant-based bottle improvements. The caps are still #5 plastic-difficult to recycle, detachable and easy to discard. Not only is it a good idea, they’ve done it before. Some of us are old enough to remember aluminum cans with pull-tops, which ended up, naturally, everywhere, including the digestive tracts of not only animals but humans as well. That changed starting in 1975, when an engineer at Reynolds Metals named Daniel F. Cudzik invented the Sta-Tab. In the first 16 years after their invention, the use of Sta-Tabs meant that over 4 million tons of aluminum was recovered and recycled rather than discarded (or ingested). This issue has been solved before; let’s do it again!