November 17, 2008 / 1:32 PM / 10 years ago

Two boys, some bottletops and a big recycling idea

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A small town in New Jersey has become a collection center for plastic bottle tops after two schoolchildren began collecting them to help the environment.

Mahe Drysdale of New Zealand throws a bottle of water towards land before the men's single sculls semifinal rowing competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games in Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Park August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Aly Song

Max and Jacob Malamed of Tenafly, N.J. started collecting caps and tops after learning that when plastic or glass bottles are recycled, the accompanying tops usually become landfill.

Birds and animals can then be attracted to the brightly colored plastic, which they ingest causing injury or death in some cases.

This is a particularly severe problem for marine life, and Max Malamed, 9, became concerned that his favorite bird, the Penguin, was among those being injured.

“If they eat the bottle tops they choke and die,” said Max.

Earlier this year he persuaded his brother Jacob to join him in gathering up their town’s bottle top surplus.

Soon the two boys had convinced their respective school grades to join in. Max is a 4th grader at J. Spencer Smith Elementary School and his 13-year old older brother Jacob is at Tenafly Middle School.

Since May this year they have collected roughly 29,000 tops. The target for the next 12 months is over 50,000 tops, their mother Lisa said.

Now the boys have enlisted every other class in their schools, and other schools in the area are considering joining the scheme. Their cousins in Albany and Connecticut have also begun their own bottle-top gathering operations.

“And its continuing all over our town,” said Lisa. “The pizza place and the coffee shops have buckets where they recycle their caps” she said.

Regular customers also drop off bottle tops at other locations including the UPS store, and the local gym. The two hair salons in town contribute all the tops from their beauty products as well as soliciting tops from their clientele.

The caps are dispatched once a month to a recycling plant in West Babylon, Long Island.

There, in a happy union of philanthropy and commerce, the tops are ground and moulded into new plastic caps for cosmetics company Aveda.

The newly minted caps are used to seal hair coloring bottles and some shampoos said a company spokesman. So far the company has collected and recycled over 65,000 pounds of plastic in this way, including from its own salons, for a total of 17 million tops.

It was after reading an article about Aveda’s research into the danger of plastics to marine life that Max and Jacob’s mother Lisa alerted her children.

“I didn’t realize until then that bottle tops were not recycled said Lisa. “I don’t think many people know that.”

Max said he concentrates his spare time on finding discarded tops in the street and on the floors of public buildings.

Jacob had only managed to collect 15 tops on the day he spoke to Reuters. His beat is Tenafly’s shops, and he walks around all of them “once or twice a week.” Jacob’s favorite tops are “from the big Gatorade bottles,” he said.

As well as drinks bottles, Jacob mentioned tops from tinned nuts, toothpaste tubes, spray-can covers and detergent bottles. At his recent Bar Mitzvah, Jacob decorated the ceremony with two lights made from bottle tops.

“The Malamed boys have inspired an entire town” the Aveda spokesman said.

He added that the company believes the boys are “motivating millions of others to join in,” which would keep many tens of thousands of pounds of plastic out of the natural environment and provide Aveda with a constant supply of plastic tops.

“If we can collect this in our town just from our day to day interactions then imagine what we can do if this spreads to other communities,” said Lisa Malamed.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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