Thursday, February 19, 2009

Milk Pull Tabs

When I was a child, milk came in clear glass bottles delivered early morning on our doorstep. Later, at the store, we purchased the boxy wax carton that served well. Now, in the name of sanitation and convenience, milk cartons have been “improved” with plastic safety milk pull-tabs. Now, thousands of these ubiquitous tabs are making their way to the landfill and will take thousand of years to go away.

My dad, knowing about my interest in plastic, for months saved pull tabs from his milk cartons and presented me with a large bag of them.

Handling materials can lead to exciting and unexpected discoveries.Touch is a special kind of teacher. Just fiddling around with the pull tabs, I found that it was easy to loop them one inside the other to make a bracelet to fit any size. It could be squished together or expanded to enlarge.

As one turns attention to anything, suddenly it is everywhere. You buy a red car and suddenly there are red cars everywhere. And so it was with the pull-tabs. They started to appear on juice containers, oil containers, soy and almond milk containers. And they were in a variety of colors, some were domed, some were flat, some were embossed, some were faceted.

And, yes, they started to appear on the beach.

People always take note of my unique jewelry, which gives me the opportunity to talk about plastic and to encourage action about everything, even about milk cartons.

During a recent trip to Tanzania, I visited a Masai village. An elder woman, entranced by my bright white bracelet, came over for a closer inspection. She touched the round discs trying to figure out the source and the material of my unusual adornment. I asked our guide to explain that I had made the bracelet out of milk pull-tabs; that they were something that would otherwise be thrown away; that I am an artist who uses recycled plastic in my creations. I was babbling so fast that probably neither she nor my translator understood a word of what I was saying. And, since the Masai subsist on milk and blood, I am sure that she had no idea about milk cartons or pull-tabs. I was thrilled that she was interested and was happy that she accepted my bracelet as a gift.

The elegant high-style of the simple interlocking of the tabs makes a fashion statement for everyday wear. For a fancier look, the tabs can be easily be embellished with indelible marking pens and with sequins.

Although I am pleased that I have found a good use for the pull-tabs I would rather that they not be used at all. Letters written to milk producers have not resulted in a return to the old-fashioned waxy cartons without the plastic lids. Fortunately, in my supermarket there is still a brand that has not adopted the plastic "improvement."