Standing at 8 by 4 feet, Gainesville City Hall’s newest mural illustrates the sunset at Paynes Prairie — a vibrant assortment of reds, oranges and yellows. If you look further, you’ll notice a more interesting detail: It was created using 75,000 bottle caps collected from across Gainesville.
The mural is a recent project by #UNLITTER, a UF non-profit geared toward sustainability and encouraging more consciousness about the environment. About 30 students, city officials and residents gathered at City Hall Thursday in anticipation of the mural’s unveiling. Members also called for a change in the city’s refusal to recycle bottle caps, despite a recent zero waste ordinance.
Shannon Sawtell, a 21-year-old UF sustainability and marketing senior and #UNLITTER director, said while the new ordinance limits businesses from using single-use plastics such as plastic cups or utensils, bottle caps still aren’t recycled in Gainesville, even though they’re recyclable.
The 75,000 bottle caps used in the mural were collected through donation boxes located at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, across UF campus and #UNLITTER events, Sawtell said.
“If we were able to collect — just through word of mouth and Facebook — 75,000 caps in a year and a half, you can imagine how many are sitting in our landfills,” she said.
The unveiling took place during a Gainesville City Commission meeting with attendees including Mayor Lauren Poe and city commissioners, followed by live music from local singer-songwriter Bruce Watt, a 30-minute clean up and tabling by local and student-run sustainability organizations.
The bottle cap mural has been in the works for about three years, Sawtell said, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that the organization started collecting bottle caps to bring the idea to life, just before they received approval from Poe to hang it at City Hall.
Karissa Raskin, assistant director of Gainesville’s department of strategy, planning and innovation, played a significant role in organizing and coordinating the unveiling.
Sustainability is an important aspect of the community and should be prioritized, Raskin said. The mural unveiling, she said, demonstrated how the city can work with UF students and Gainesville residents to improve environmental efforts.
“This is something that was important to the mayor,” Raskin said. “This was something that was important to city leadership — to have a mechanism for showing that it's not just the city's work — it's the community's work.”
The city is committed to its zero waste goals and are striving to work more with the community, Raskin said.
Chloe Schwab, a 21-year-old UF marine science senior and events coordinator for #UNLITTER, said she came up with the idea for the bottle cap mural a few years ago after seeing a small bottle cap mural of a dolphin on Pinterest.
Not recycling bottle caps is a major issue on campus, she said, a problem worsened by the availability of vending machines and plastic bottles. Many aren’t aware of Gainesville’s recycling policies, so they justify their use of plastic bottles, Schwab said.
“They're like ‘it's okay because I'll recycle it,’ but they don't realize that the caps aren't recyclable,” Shtwab said. “You're actually still really contributing to a lot of single-use plastic waste.”
#UNLITTER Assistant Director Isabella Marti, a 20-year-old UF education sciences and political science sophomore, said the main reason the mural is so important is that it encourages people to take action in protecting the environment. Some don’t get involved with environmental advocacy, she said, because they think it’s already too late.
“People kind of take a backseat and decide, ‘you know, we can't do anything about the government,’” Marti said. “‘We're kind of doomed’ is a very popular idea that people attach to, but us as individuals do have such an important impact on our local environment.”
If community members care for their local environment, it’ll largely improve, she said.
“You can do such little things that clean out waterways, that protect your local animals and protect your local environment,” Marti said. “It’s really important to emphasize how we can all do something that does actually make an impact.”
Contact Luna Boales at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @LunaBoales.
Luna Boales is a third-year journalism major and avenue staff reporter. When she's not reporting, you'll find her writing poetry, meditating or reading.