Stories about someone walking on a beach and finding a message in a bottle can capture our imagination, but a volunteer at Point Reyes National Seashore has used his imagination to turn the bottles themselves into the message--and he did it in a big way.
Richard James serves as a VIP (Volunteer in Parks) at Point Reyes, and he provides a great example of how one person can help make a park—and the world in general—a better place. Over the past three years he's picked up more than three tons of litter from beaches at Point Reyes and hauled it out for proper disposal.
That in itself is a notable achievement, but James has taken his efforts a step further, and turned some of that trash into a compelling visual message.
James says people who were aware of his efforts began to suggest he accumulate a year's worth of the trash he'd collected from the beach and put it on display as a way to bring the problem to the public's attention. He says his response evolved into, “That is a great idea, may I store it at your place?”... and notes wryly that his question was always "met with a grin and a no-thanks."
Even so, the idea kept coming up, so James refined it a bit and decided to save a year's worth of just the plastic bottles he collected along the shoreline. His plan was to store 12 month's worth of "disposable" water bottles he'd picked up and display them with the hope of encouraging people to use a refillable metal bottle—and stop buying plastic. Park officials were able to find a storage site, and James then began pondering a creative way to display the junk in a way that would capture attention.
His solution seems to have hit the mark.
The volunteer turned the plastic junk into "meta-bottles" that stand about eight-and-a-half feet tall and are nearly three feet in diameter. A chicken-wire frame provides the shape and the lids of the bottles are plastic buckets, also collected from area beaches.
The giant "bottles" were set up briefly on the beach early one morning for a photo, and were then moved to a pasture on private property on the edge of the small California village of Point Reyes Station. They're attracting considerable attention, and a small sign offers an explanation for curious passers-by who stop for a closer look.
James says the meta-bottles are expected to be on display in their current location for at least a couple of months, and notes they're not hard to find on the edge of the small town of Point Reyes Station. Park officials are considering providing a site for the display somewhere near the park visitor center, where the sculptures can continue to spread their message about the environmental cost of litter and plastic bottles.
The original version of James' photo of the meta-bottles carries a compelling reminder for all of us: "In one year, one person collected these bottles on the beaches of one national park. Point Reyes. Most plastic in the ocean breaks into particles that contaminate the fish that eat them and us when we eat the fish. Use one metal bottle."
James' efforts offer a good reminder for all of us that the solution for such issues is literally in each of our hands as consumers and users of public lands, and various organizations offer some startling statistics about plastic bottles that are directly connected to current concerns about government spending, oil supplies and the cost of energy:
• More than 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators every day – a total of about 22 billion last year.
• One source says making plastic bottles to meet the US demand for bottled water requires more than 15 million barrels of oil annually; another source says 7% of total US oil consumption is used for making new plastic (including water bottles.)
• Only about 12% to 17% of plastic bottles are recycled in the U.S. The rest add to the cost of trash pickup and operating landfills--or even worse, they end up as litter on beaches, along trails and on roadsides.
Most of us simply can't wrap out minds around those huge numbers…and that's one of the reasons for James' sculptures at Point Reyes. Some parks such as Grand Canyon are beginning to take steps to encourage visitors to use refillable water bottles, but there's clearly lots more to be done.
If you'd like to view a larger photo of James' sculptures, you'll find one at www.coastodian.org.