Archive October 2017 XVIII, No. 10

Ideas That Work: Sustainability

A Crafty Idea for Recycling Colorful Medication Vial Caps

biocap project CAP-ITAL IDEA The Wisconsin capital dome, complete with its famous flowerbeds, is a current biocap project.
rainbow cancer ribbon STRONG VISUAL A rainbow cancer ribbon made entirely from medication vial caps that otherwise would have been thrown away.

A Crafty Idea for Recycling Colorful Medication Vial Caps

Recycling can be more than just a beautiful idea. Here at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, we're using medication vial caps that otherwise would have been thrown away to create beautiful works of art. We've been at it for just more than a year now, and not only have we kept more than 200 pounds of bottle caps out of the landfill, we've also created a fun and creative outlet for staff, patients and patient family members.

As the medical director of sustainability, I'd been told that the huge number of caps that we were throwing away every day, which, by the way, come in a variety of beautiful colors, were too small to recycle unless they were collected and bagged separately. At the recycling plant, they typically fell through the cracks, because the sorting machines couldn't handle such small objects. So we launched an initiative to collect and recycle them.

small things add up VAST NUMBERS The initiative made a strong statement about how large numbers of small things add up over time.

Then I had an idea. The vial caps were extremely small and colorful, and they reminded me of sand art I'd seen some Tibetan monks create at a conference I attended. When I got together with our senior art coordinator, Amanda Kron, we said we bet we could make a beautiful mural here just by using our recycled bottle caps. We'd added it up and realized we were going through more than 4 pounds of them a week and more than 150,000 caps per year from the hospital's ORs alone. And at the same time, we could convey a powerful message about how even very small things accumulate over time.

There were plenty of examples of bottle cap art online. So we set up a room, and using templates of images we wanted to create, we let people have at it in their spare time. It's kind of like paint-by-numbers, but with bottle caps and hot glue.

bottle cap art BOTTLE CAPS In their spare time, staff at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine use hot glue guns to make bottle cap art.

At first it was just for our staff, but now we're letting patients and their families get involved, which is a great way for them to pass the time when they're feeling antsy. Kids can help, too, as long as their parents supervise. And of course, the caps are all from pre-patient-contact materials, so there's no infection risk.

The idea has really caught on. It started in the OR, but now the bottle-cap collecting has spread to dialysis, radiology and pharmacy, and we're hanging some of our more inspired creations on our walls. They're a reminder that beauty is sometimes the result of shared goals and activities.

Karin Zuegge, MD
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Madison, Wisc.

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