Pen Women collect plastic bottle caps for lagoon project

Cape Canaveral Pen Women’s past president Marion Coste shows off the latest Caps for a Cause project to help restore the Indian River Lagoon.

The lowly plastic bottle cap is unwanted even by recycling facilities, which rarely use them. However, thanks in part to the Cape Canaveral Pen Women, this Rodney Dangerfield of plastic may earn well-deserved respect as a hero in saving the Indian River Lagoon.

Intrigued by a news story on Florida Institute of Technology’s research on the subject, Pen Women past-president Marion Coste floated the idea to collect caps for the Florida Tech project, which places mesh bags filled with these plastic castoffs throughout the lagoon. The caps serve to convert and remove excess nitrogen to prevent harmful algal blooms. The portable bags can be moved as needed to do their cleaning job in different areas of the lagoon.

The Pen Women have embraced their Caps for a Cause project with enthusiasm, collecting caps wherever they might be and in whatever numbers are available. One Senior Place, where the Pen Women often host author talks, provided a huge amount. The grassroots project has taken off as neighbor tells neighbor, homeowners associations alert members, and schools get involved.

“It’s a win-win for everyone and makes us feel we are making an impact,” current president Donna Puglisi said.

While plastic is usually considered a no-no in waterways because of the possible leaching of harmful chemicals, bottle caps are not privy to those chemicals.

However, if you are thinking of helping out by tossing a couple of caps into the river, don’t. For one thing, the researchers at Florida Tech know where the caps can work best, primarily in stormwater baffle boxes that capture debris. The caps also need to be bagged to keep them from being ingested by fish or birds.

Dr. Austin Fox, assistant professor in ocean engineering and marine sciences, and graduate student Abbey Gering developed the concept, based on bioballs used in aquarium systems. The project caps the university’s multiprong effort to improve the health of the lagoon and has implications that could impact coastal waters around the world.

“We are the ripples in a pond, making waves that will eventually give us our clear blue waters once again,” Puglisi said.

Donation boxes for clean plastic bottle caps can be found at the Brevard Zoo, the Sun Shoppe Café in Melbourne and The Tiny Turtle in Cocoa Beach.

For more information or to donate caps directly to Florida Tech, contact Abbey Gering at geringa2016@my.fit.edu. The caps can be from water, tea, Gatorade, soda, medicine bottles, milk jugs, orange juice, as well as small plastic lids.