Think More



Plastic Bottle Caps


The Plastic Assassination in Midway Atoll

This is anti-plastic warfare; they are just front-line sacrifices.

– American Wildlife Photographer Chris Jordan

Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by beautiful corals reefs, the Midway Atoll has been through an ocean massacre during the Second World War, witnessing everything around being “snapped” into dust. After more than half a century, humans kill at this place once again. This time, it is in the name of plastic.

In the family of seabirds, albatrosses are one of the biggest, they can effortlessly spread their wings to 2 meters wide. One of their native homelands is exactly the Midway Atoll. July and August every year are when they would go back to breed. There, albatrosses that have just stepped into adolescence would participate in a miraculous musical; from clumsy group dancing and choir, gradually to elegant pairs, until they finally find their “the one”. Unless they failed to procreate for many years, albatrosses will only stay with one companion for their whole life. After successfully hatching the younglings, the two parents will take turns to hunt prey such as shrimps, squids, and other small fishes in the ocean to feed their offsprings. These days of hardship will last for a hundred to two hundred days until the fledglings finally unfold their wings and take off to pursue their journey.

The problem is, this seemingly happily ever after story might not be able to continue.

In September 2009, Chris Jordan and his partner went to Midway Atoll for the first time. Instead of being welcomed by the squawking sounds made by hungry albatross fledglings, they found thousands of dead bird bodies on the beach… Before these fledglings could spread their wings and fly, they were killed by the plastic fed to them. These plastics were all precious “food” brought back by parents albatross. In red and green, they all look scrumptious.

Chris Jordan took photos and filmed a documentary for the dead premature birds, including the plastics inside their bodies.

Chris Jordan at work on Midway
Chris Jordan and a seabird
Photo taken by MIDWAYJOURNEY on flicker

What seabirds are forced to eat?

In 2015, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) published a study related to the effects on seabirds by plastic pollution. After viewing the data related to accidental intake of plastic by seabirds between year 1962 to 2012, the trends showed that: “Currently, 90% of the seabirds have plastics in their stomachs. And it is estimated that by 2050, 99% of the bird’s species around the world would have tasted plastic.”

A research scientist Dr. Denise Hardesty of The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia (CRISO), who also took part in writing the report, said that “From lighters to bottle caps, to model cars, I’ve seen everything (in the birds’ stomachs).”

CNN also went to the Midway Atoll for video shooting. Under its camera, a particular lighter inside the albatross’ stomach left a very deep impression on us. It’s because there was Chinese written on it, “Xialin Road, Tainan City……”

Imagine on Xialin Road of Tainan City where it’s bustling with restaurants, someone took a lighter from a nightclub and somehow tossed it in the ocean. The small lighter travelled through the rough and unforgiving ocean waves for 6213 kilometers, finally arriving at the centre of the Pacific Ocean. Yet, father albatross (or mother) went for a hunt and caught it, happily bringing it back to feed their babies……

The beginning of the story could vary, it could be Xialin Road, the noisy Ladies Market in Hong Kong, the elegant Sydney Opera House, or even New Delhi that is full of the aroma of different curries. However, the story would end in the same way: karma will hit humans through nature’s rail.


Bottle Cap Warfare

Photo taken by Chris Jordan

Right now, please hold your feeling of heartache and check all of the fledgling corpses photos taken by Chris Jordan. You will find that insides the body of almost every younglings, there would be a type of plastics: plastic bottle cap.

Ocean Conservancy, an environmental organization, has published a report in 2018, listing the global number of all types of plastic waste picked up during beach cleaning activities. Plastic bottle caps occupied fourth place with a total of 1.09 million pieces, which people just readily threw. However, the scourge they bring is not limited to its great amount.

They are small and therefore, very troublesome. Without waiting for the plastic materials to be broken down into small pieces, bottle caps are small enough to be swallowed by marine organisms. Bottle caps threaten their lives and invaded the food chain.

Source: Building a clean swell, 2018 report

Knowing this, the European Union (EU) was driven to pass new measures. All beverage companies are required to ensure that all bottle caps are connected to their products by 2024. This means that the bottle cap and the bottle itself will be a single piece, reducing the chances of the cap being scattered around. However, having new designs will increase the cost, why would the leading beverage companies submit? In 2018, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, Danone, and other companies from the industry wrote to the EU attempting to obstruct them. The industry federation of Europe even published a report, stating that the new rules on plastic bottle caps would only consume more plastic and increasing the carbon emission, resulting in immense economical losses. Their suggestion is to keep the design while enhancing the collection system of bottle caps.


Saving People with New Designs?

How do you unite the bottle caps with the bottles while reducing carbon emissions from the production line? This will be a challenge for product designers. What you should know is, a good design can indeed save lives, and there are successful examples.

Remember this abominating plastic packaging? The 6-pack rings for canned drinks such as soda and beer used to be popular. But later, it was found to be sea turtle killers and was eventually eliminated. Go check your local supermarkets, see how designers solve the problem by substitution.





The EU proposed to change the design of the bottles and the caps. And the beverage industry proposed to strengthen the collection system. Which one would you support?