Cap Recycling Project Earns State Fair Invitation for Young Environmentalist
Many of us begin the journey to environmentalism as adults. Others start when they are still children. Recently, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) had the privilege of interviewing 11-year-old Jack Potter, a soon-to-be 6th grader, who began his environmental journey by collecting and recycling #5 plastic bottle caps. Jack didn’t just collect a few bottle caps, he saved nearly 1,000. And this week at his county fair, he earned the right to exhibit his project at the Iowa State Fair. Jack’s determination to make a difference impressed us, so we asked him to share a bit of his story. — Publisher
BPGL: What was the purpose of your recycling project?
POTTER: My goal for the project was to raise awareness of the fact that plastic caps are almost never recycled. When they’re not recycled, they end up in landfills or in the ocean, and that’s bad for the environment.
BPGL: What motivated you to get involved in recycling plastic caps?
POTTER: My mom showed me a newspaper article about trash that had been washing into the Pacific Ocean. Some people had gone to pick it up. They found that there were thousands of toothbrushes, tires — all kinds of trash. But the most common thing they found was plastic bottles and plastic caps. So, I researched the plastic caps thing, and I found that they’re almost never recycled. There’s a company that does recycle them, so I thought I’d make a project showing how you actually can recycle them, so people will stop throwing them away.
BPGL: What happens to the bottle caps you collect?
POTTER: At my house, we have a vase near the sink, and whenever somebody drinks bottled water or uses something that has a cap on it, they just throw the cap in the vase. And when the vase gets full, we empty it into a Tupperware container that we have. After you’ve collected them, you can take them to an Aveda center.
A lot of spas that carry Aveda products will be participating in the recycling program. So, we’ll just collect them for a while and go to one of those spas, and if they accept them, they’ll take the caps and ship them off to Aveda. Once they get to their recycling center, the caps are melted down by themselves [not with other plastic types] and recycled to be used for Aveda products like shampoo bottles.
BPGL: How many caps have you collected so far?
POTTER: When I first started this project, it had been nine months into the collecting, and around then we had 650 caps. By now, we’ve probably collected about 1,000.
BPGL: Where do you get so many? Surely your family doesn’t go through 1,000 caps in a year.
POTTER: People use up more than you’d think. There are water bottles. There are pop and Gatorade bottles. There’s shampoo, ketchup, mustard, orange juice, milk — all kinds of things. Sometimes, if I’m out walking and I see a couple of caps lying around, I’ll just pick them up and throw those in the vase when I get home. So I suppose they’re not all from my family, but the majority of them are.
BPGL: Were you surprised at the huge number of caps — and bottles — that your family went through in a year?
POTTER: I was very surprised. I had no idea that we’d use that many. I just thought it made the reason to recycle them even bigger.
BPGL: Were your parents surprised as well?
POTTER: They were.
BPGL: Do you have any plans to spread this message to your school?
POTTER: Every year, our school has this thing called a penny war, where everyone brings in pennies and puts them in their class’s bucket… I’m going to try to see if we can do something along those lines with caps — to get our whole school to collect them and recycle them.
BPGL: What are your plans in the future?
POTTER: Besides the school cap drive, I know I’m going to be collecting caps. I’ve talked to my grandparents about it, and they have started collecting their caps and recycling them. They’ve talked to my aunts and uncles and their friends. They told me that all those people are going to start collecting too, and hopefully they’ll tell other people, and it will just become more common for people to recycle their plastic caps.
BPGL: Have you heard of viral marketing, Jack?
POTTER: No, I’ve never heard of that.
BPGL: That’s what you’re doing. You’re spreading the message like a virus spreads from one person to another; only, in this case, it’s a very good thing.
What else would you like to tell us about your project?
POTTER: One thing that I found really surprising was, when I took the amount of caps my family had, I did some math to figure out how many caps Iowa would go through every year —just a rough estimate. I took the amount of people from the US Census Bureau’s latest survey of Iowa, and it turns out that Iowa alone would go through more than 600 million caps every year.
BPGL: Wow! How did you determine that?
POTTER: I took the amount of caps our family had in 9 months, and divided that by 9 to figure out what one month’s worth of caps was. Then I multiplied that by our one year’s worth. From there, I took the US Census Bureau’s amount of people in Iowa, and divided it by the average family size, which I believe was 2.9 people at the time, so we’ll call it 3. And I just multiplied the amount of caps our family had by the amount of families, and came up with over 600 million.
BPGL: Were you doing this project with the county fair in mind the whole time?
POTTER: I was doing it with the fair in mind the whole time, because it started out as a 4H project. I was trying to make a tri-fold that people could read easily at the fair and learn a lot.
BPGL: What happened at the fair this week? Were you successful?
POTTER: The bottle cap project won a “State Fair consideration” ribbon. In the end, they decided to send it to State Fair. I had also done a different project on a trash pickup, and that got a blue ribbon.
BPGL: So did your bottle cap project also get a blue ribbon?
POTTER: No, it got a purple ribbon.
BPGL: Is purple higher than blue?
POTTER: Yes. The purple ribbon is State Fair, and the blue is just first place.
BPGL: When will the Iowa State Fair be held?
POTTER: August 13 through August 23 in Des Moines.
BPGL: Where can people find your exhibit? What hall will you be in?
POTTER: My exhibit will be in the 4H building at the State Fair. There should be an Issues section, where my tri-fold will be.
BPGL: Have you ever exhibited at the State Fair before?
POTTER: No, in 4H for Iowa, you have to have completed 5th grade before you’re allowed to exhibit at State Fair. I entered projects last year and they got an Outstanding Junior rating, which means it would have gone to the State Fair if I had been old enough. This is the first year I will exhibit at the State Fair.
BPGL: Have you been an environmentalist as long as you can remember, Jack?
POTTER: I like trying to find small ways I can help the environment. I started paying attention to these issues when global warming really became an issue and was on news programs all the time. I saw that, and I started seeing books and magazines and posters everywhere about trying to find small ways to help save the environment. I’m just trying to find my own small way I can help. I guess this is it.