Rethinking Trash—The Bottle Cap Mural

The bottle cap mural serves as a reminder to Stuyvesant students to be environmentally friendly.

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Ever since the founding of the Environmental Club, Stuyvesant has taken up many environmentally-focused projects to help improve the school and the community by initiating movements from proper sorting of trash to the rooftop garden, which is run by the Environmental Club to provide fresh food for the school lunches. This year, the Environmental Club has tackled a new project: the bottle cap mural. Biology teacher and Environmental Club advisor Marissa Maggio has been urging students and staff to bring in colored bottle caps to create a big, colorful mural made entirely out of the collected caps. The mural, which will be displayed on the back wall of the cafeteria, aims to raise awareness for recycling and incorporate the policy into the Stuyvesant community.

“We have a really big issue for some reason in school right now with students not cleaning their waste, not cleaning their garbage in the bins and leaving it on the tables,” Maggio said. “We’re hoping this will be a really big, colorful reminder that you need to clean up after yourselves and ideally when you do that, you put everything in the right bins.”

The idea for the mural came from a trip that Maggio takes every semester to a recycling plant in Yonkers. “As we walked through the hallways I always noticed this really big mural that is on the wall [and] it’s made out of bottle caps,” she explained. The project went from a hopeful thought to a reality when she presented to the Environmental Club the idea of a mural similar to the one in the recycling plant. Junior and Vice President of the Environmental Club Julia Hart recalled, “Ms. Maggio came up with this idea a couple years ago, and she’s been bugging me about it ever since, and I decided, well, let’s do it.”

The mural has many focuses that collectively aim to better the Stuyvesant environment. “It’s supposed to show people exactly how much waste we produce and what impact it has on our earth and the things that we can do to reduce the amount of waste going into our system,” Hart said.

Senior and President of the Environmental Club Kenny Wong added that the bottle-cap project is part of a bigger project that is in place: “It's part of the upcycled art project that we are working on. The upcycled art project is where we take normally what we think is trash and we make art out of it,” Wong elaborated. The upcycled art project has been incorporated in various other places, including the use of bottles in the rooftop garden.

The mural connects back to the cafeteria, where there is a prominent problem of waste. The Green Team, a branch of the Environmental Club, has been working on making new signs to try to combat this. “What we are doing is trying to make it simpler for students to sort their trash because a majority of kids said that they were either lazy or the signage in the cafeteria is unorganized,” sophomore Kyron Liu explained. “What we plan to do is to combine all the items that might be commonly misplaced into different bins and put it onto one poster and [place] it around the cafeteria.”

Junior Thomas Creighton added, “The problem is that people would leave their trays on the table and then janitors, or custodial, or cafeteria staff [would] have to pick them up and they frequently just don’t have enough time to sort through the numerous different trays that are left on the tables.” The source of this problem could be numerous things, from the size of the student body to the laziness of students. However, this is something that can be overcome by the awareness and message promoted by Green Team’s posters and the bottle cap mural.

Stuyvesant’s academically-driven nature might be a cause of a lacking environmental presence. When Maggio first arrived at Stuyvesant, she realized the mindset of Stuyvesant students. She recalled, “There [are] a lot of great things about Stuyvesant but it definitely was not a very green school or very environmentally-driven. There was sort of an environmental club trying to get started for a while and when I came we really did some heavy recruiting and really got it off the ground.”

There are many projects that the Environmental Club is undertaking with a far bigger scope that anyone observing from the outside can perceive. “We do the TerraCycle project, which is recycling aluminum foil […] and we also recycle ink toners, and juice pouches, so it’s just so many things that we do,” Wong described.

The Environmental Club’s bottle cap mural is still some ways from being finished, but the message of environmental sustainability is clear. The mural, as well as the other projects initiated by the Environmental Club, is a way to encourage the community in Stuyvesant, as well as the public, to be more eco-friendly. “It’s just kind of giving the idea that materials can be reused and not everything needs to be thrown away right away [as well as] getting the message of environmentalism out across the school,” Maggio said.