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A “Cap”tivating Masterpiece

Originally appears in the Winter 2016 issue

“But, bottle caps are so small!” “How can something so small harm my environment so much?” After the students at Conway Elementary School heard the harmful effects of plastic bottle caps on the environment they went bonkers about finding a solution to a big problem. According to B.E.A.C.H. (Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii) plastic bottle caps are a top item causing a lot of damage in our coastal areas. Recycling would seem like the most obvious solution. However, not every city has the resources to properly recycle these little plastic discs. So, what did we do? We turned our trash into treasure!

During a recent county-wide recycling project, our students were asked to collect plastics for an entire month.  “Leave the caps off of the bottles,” the students were told.  It was that particular statement that led an elementary math teacher along with a local university professor (a husband and wife team) to develop a school-wide beautification project with colorful bottle caps as the stars of the show.

“Why can’t we leave the caps on?” This question was asked by students and parents alike.   It was then explained that the local Solid Waste Authority does not possess the machinery that can recycle such small, hard plastic caps.  The caps would lodge themselves into shredding machines, slowing down the recycling process.  Therefore, workers at the recycling center must separate the caps from the plastics before the jugs or bottles can be recycled.  “What happens to the caps?” That question was the obvious follow-up.  Teachers explained that the caps either contributed to landfills, or even worse, made their way into local lakes, rivers, and even the ocean.  Living in Conway, South Carolina, a town on a large river, students were appalled.  The caps were too colorful to dismiss: surely they could be put to better use.  So began a project in which Conway students created a massive bottle cap mural, which we hope will stand the test of time!

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Kimberly Carroll is an early childhood professor at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. Tim Carroll is an elementary math teacher and professional pop culture mosaic artist in Conway, South Carolina.


Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii

Stitzlein, M., & Stitzlein, N. (2008). Bottlecap little bottlecap: Four art projects for children, families, schools and non-profits utilizing recycled plastic bottlecaps. Place of publication not identified: [].