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Eagle Rock Multi Age finds beauty in plastic bottle caps

  • Written by Connie Berg

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Amber Piel and Pam Martin with their recycled art made out of bottlecaps. Photo by Connie Berg.
When I first received the e-mail from our school office, asking parents to start collecting and washing plastic bottle caps for an all school art project, my first thought was … this will never work.

I couldn’t imagine any art made with plastic bottle caps that would be very appealing.  Was I ever surprised at the end result. To my utter amazement, the recycled art project turned out stunning.

And, to think all of those bottle caps would just have ended up in a landfill somewhere. This is how the Eagle Rock recycled art project came to life …

Pam Martin, a marine naturalist and parent/ volunteer specialist at Eagle Rock Multi Age, found the inspiration for this project online. Once she realized the enormity of the project, she quickly recruited Amber Piel, another ERMA parent and graphic artist, to help.  Together, with a lot of support from Rich and Monica Leisen, they came up with 14 pieces of art for the students at ERMA to create.

I asked Pam Martin to explain how this project began and this is what she had to say.

“Families started collecting and sending in their bottle caps at the beginning of the school year all the way through March. A few others heard about our project and sent bags of caps as well.  Amber and I sorted all of the caps at school one day ... this was the time that it became clear which caps had been washed before turning in and which had not ... ick ... months of mold growing on some. So anyone trying this will want to make sure caps are well cleaned before storage.Amber and I were amazed at the beautiful rich colors and variety of the caps ... pinks, oranges, purples, etc. These little pieces of trash that we would throw away without a second thought offered an amazing palette of colors to the eye.

“Amber created amazing actual size sketches for our wonderful outdoor garden theme and organized the bottle caps according to different colors for each project. The kids had such a wonderful time using the caps to create the art work on Earth Day.  After the art was hung they were so excited and telling each other ... ‘I put on that cap.’”

Monica traced all of the shapes onto plywood and sanded and primed them.  Rich cut out all of the wooden shapes and then helped prime them.  After the kids applied the caps with glue to the designs, Rich individually screwed each cap to the backing with stainless steel screws to ensure that it would last a long time.  Rich permanently hung all of the designs, with a little help from Paul Berg and Amber and Pam, on a wall at Eagle Rock Multi Age.

Pam said, “I am so excited about the final results. I think my favorite part of the whole project is that as I look at all these amazing little caps and the beautiful scene they create, I am reminded that each one could represent the saved life of a sea animal.  This was a great project and message for Earth Day.

“I encourage you to copy this idea in your homes and school and let’s continue to create beauty from unused plastic bottle caps! I was looking for something cool to do for Earth Day and came across an artist on the web, Michelle Stitzlein, who makes wonderful bottle cap art with school aged children. I was inspired by the project because working as a marine naturalist I am very familiar with the fate of many of our bottle caps. Since most recycling centers will not take bottle caps, they go to landfills and can work their way into our rivers and oceans. Marine birds and animals often eat them which can lead to death by choking or more often malnutrition...stomachs full of useless plastic bottle caps that cannot be expelled.”

Aveda offers a program to take some of the currently un-recycled bottle caps and recycle them for making new caps for their shampoos. It is an amazing program that has partnered with 1,600 schools nationwide. They have reached capacity for their school program but are still able to take caps from individuals. They also encourage people to become involved in trying to get curbside bottle cap recycling...more info at http://www.aveda.com/cms/discover_aveda/bethechange/popup_caps.tmpl.

When I asked Amber about her thoughts on the project, this is what she had to say.

“Pam was kind enough to include me in the start of this wonderful vision she found. And give me free artistic license as far as design goes. I had a field day.  And completely took it on from a foster child to wanting to adopt it and acted like a helicopter mom by the end of it. However I felt somehow justified based on all the support I received from Pam my cheerleader that I had every right to considering the amount of time and effort that was being put in by me and my colleagues. I was even more at ease when Rich and Monica made my art come to life with the cutting out of the shapes and finally drilling all the thousands of the calculatedly placed caps, so almost every cap had a home. And thanks to all the children and parents that helped glue them on. At the end I was the happiest mommy in the world having Rich, Monica and Pam be there to see the Art Piece Baby come to life.”

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