15 September 2023

Turning the tide: World Cleanup Day chat with Scuba Jess

By Trivium Communications
News contact
Tiffany Schlarman
Tiffany Schlarman
Global Marketing Communications Director

For this year's World Cleanup Day, we spoke to Jessica Alexanderson, better known as Scuba Jess, the underwater photographer and ocean advocate who took her passion for clean waters to the next level as she traded in her desk job for a more hands-on role at Scrap University Kids.

What makes Scuba Jess and Scrap University Kids so impressive? They have a clear mission: eliminate metal from the waste stream within the next 30 years. How? By teaching our kids that their choices matter—a lot. Whether it's picking up a can off the beach during a clean-up dive or choosing a metal water bottle over a plastic one, every bit helps. Why metal? Because every single piece of metal can be recycled.

In our chat, we dive deep into how Scrap University Kids is turning this simple fact into a lesson for life. We'll also explore the ways we all can make more sustainable choices, not just on World Cleanup Day, but every day.

How did you first become interested in recycling and what made you start educating about recycling? 

While working at Evergreen Shipping, I shipped many containers filled with metal scrap. I showed a picture from one of my cleanup dives to a customer who told me that the metal items I found could be recycled at my local scrapyard. He is now my co-author Brad Rudover who owns Detroit Scrap and Scrap University Kids. 

I felt so guilty for not knowing this sooner. I knew about recycling cans and bottles, but I never thought about recycling old rusty chains and old chunks of metal, and I knew not to put them in my regular recycling bin. Discovering that scrapyards would take and pay for this metal made me realize the importance of sharing this information. 


I grew up in Utah without learning this, so I decided to start educating kids. During my cleanup dives, I lay out all the trash I collect near the aquarium's parking lot, which attracts curious children. They often ask where I found the debris, surprised to learn it was right beneath the beautiful beach's surface. 


Many people aren't divers and can't see what we do underwater, so I'm passionate about showing and teaching everyone how they can help in a fun and positive way. Instead of focusing on the negative, I believe that by staying positive and working together, we can make a change and assist the incredible sea creatures in our oceans.

What do you want everyone to know about recycling? 

In the USA only 45% of aluminum cans get recycled even though they are 100% recyclable! This is a problem we can solve if we work together. The more metal we can reuse, the better it is for our oceans and planet by cutting our emissions and mining. It takes 95% less energy to make a can out of recycled aluminum and cans can be recycled forever. Please REDUCE your consumption first, reuse as much as you can, and if you have a chance to choose, please choose metal and recycle it.  

What do you want everyone to know about metal? 

All metal can be recycled and has value, you can bring it to your local scrapyard and they will recycle it for you and even pay you for it. They can even recycle your old wires, holiday lights, tinfoil, and old metal items. So please never throw them away.  

What are the biggest recycling myths you confront in your education work? 

There's a common misconception that plastic can be recycled indefinitely, but sadly, that's not the case. Surprisingly, discussions about metal recycling are often scarce. While schools emphasize paper recycling, metal tends to be overlooked despite its simplicity to recycle and the fact that you can even earn money from it. I'm determined to raise awareness about this oversight. 


Tell us a little about your first book, The Girl Who Recycled One Million Cans, and how this book continues the story.


In our first book, we meet Ellie, a determined girl with a mission to save the planet by recycling cans. She discovers that recycling aluminum cans can earn her money, and she sets her sights on recycling one million cans to fulfill her dream of buying a unicorn. With the support of her friends and schoolmates, they embark on this exciting journey. Along the way, they befriend Mr. Ferrous Magglio, a talking magnet who shares valuable recycling information and quickly becomes a favorite among the kids. 


In our second book, "A Recycling Adventure to the Scrapyard," Ellie and her friends make a triumphant return. This time, they're addressing the issue of people discarding metal items in the trash. Their quest involves collecting wires, Christmas lights, horseshoes, and even unicorn shoes from the entire town. These items are then taken to the local scrapyard for recycling, with the hope of earning some money. When their truck breaks down, they seize the opportunity to recycle it as well. Their resourcefulness showcases that challenges can be transformed into positive actions for the environment. 


As part of our series, we have planned four books that illustrate the complete cycle of metal recycling. In the third book, we will explore the melting process, and in the fourth book, we will delve into the manufacturing process, demonstrating how old, recycled metal is used to create new items. 

Why did you decide to write these books?  And why did you choose to write them for young children?

We believe that teaching young children that ALL metal can be recycled and has value is essential. Our hope is that they will remember this as they grow up, preventing them from ever throwing any metal items in the trash. With the help of our picture books. They'll understand they can exchange metal for cash at local scrapyards and might even influence others to do the same, creating a larger shift in thinking. 


Our aim is to pass this knowledge down through generations in a fun way. We want to keep it happy and positive for little kids.  Recycling metal is a direct way to help our planet, as it can be recycled indefinitely. By reusing more, we decrease the need for extensive mining and reduce the strain on our planet's resources. 

Why is it important to educate children about recycling, what impact can they have at a young age? 

Children are like sponges; they absorb knowledge and then bring it home to share with their parents and grandparents. With this information, they hold the potential to influence an older generation that may be set in their ways. If these adorable kids kindly instruct their grandparents not to dispose of cans in the trash but to recycle them instead, there's a strong chance that they will be heard. 


We are entrusting this planet to the next generation, so let's ensure that we leave it in a better state than we found it. 

How do kids typically respond to the information you share about metal recycling? 

Children become incredibly enthusiastic once they discover how they can make a difference. When I read our books to them, they start asking loads of engaging questions. You can practically see their minds at work; they're already on the lookout for cans to recycle. 


I also provide them with magnets and explain that aluminum cans are non-ferrous (non-magnetic), while tin cans are magnetic. This way, they can easily determine which bin to place their metal items in. Sorting metal before taking it to the scrapyard can even earn them more money for their efforts. 


How do you make the topic of metal recycling engaging and relatable for the younger generation? 

We've established a connection between local scrapyards and elementary schools. The scrapyards bring bins to the school parking lots, where students can decorate metal boxes to take home and collect metal items. They bring these items to school and fill up the bins. Once the bins are full, the scrapyard sends a check for the metal's value to the school. This process lets the kids witness the initial steps of metal recycling firsthand. 


To enrich their learning experience, we invite scrapyard employees to visit and read our books to the kids. This interaction allows the children to gain insights into recycling industry jobs and discover ways they can contribute to our planet's well-being. 


The kids are also captivated by Mr. Ferrous Magglio, our talking magnet, who delights in sharing recycling facts. We offer engaging coloring pages and worksheets on our website to help kids learn in an enjoyable manner. 

How do you see the role of metal packaging manufacturing companies, like ours, in promoting responsible recycling habits? 

I wish more companies were like Trivium, actively promoting metal recycling to children. Some have begun ordering our books to give out with their products, spreading the recycling message in an engaging way. I also hope more companies invest in metal packaging, viewing it as an investment in our planet's future. 


Metal recycling is often overlooked in schools, and as a small company, we're working to fill this gap. We need support from larger companies to help us expand our mission and raise awareness more effectively. Together, we can make a difference for the planet and future generations. 

With World Cleanup Day in mind, how do you believe events like these can inspire a global shift in recycling habits? 

Events like World Cleanup Day can trigger a global shift in recycling habits. Participating in cleanups, especially near waterways, prevents trash from polluting our oceans. People find cleaning up like a treasure hunt, making it a fun game to collect trash and recyclables. I wish such events happened more often as our oceans and planet urgently need help. If we each cleaned up once a week, our world would be cleaner, and seeing the same items repeatedly would change shopping habits too. 

You’ve coordinated multiple recycling events for communities and schools, how do you feel these events helped educate or change the habits of those who participated?

I like to think that the children I engage with during my readings and scuba presentations have absorbed the lesson never to discard a can or any metal item into the trash. Additionally, I hope they've learned the importance of not leaving anything on beaches or near storm drains and have developed an appreciation for the incredible marine life in our oceans. By showcasing these remarkable creatures and their habitats, I aspire to stimulate a shift in people's perspectives. Ideally, I want them to consider the impact of their purchases and think beyond themselves, reflecting on where items will ultimately end up when they're no longer needed. 

What are you hoping to achieve through your education work? What impact would you like to see in the coming years? 

My educational work has several goals for the coming years. I aim to remove 500,000 tires from Puget Sound and expand cleanup efforts globally. I also aspire to help the USA achieve a 100% aluminum can recycling rate, inspired by Brazil's success. Moreover, I want to encourage people to shift from plastic to metal and reusable items, fostering conscious consumer choices that consider the product's end journey. These changes, though small, can collectively make a significant positive impact on our environment. 

What makes you proud of the work you are doing and gives you hope for the future? 

What fills me with hope for the future and makes me proud of the work I'm engaged in is recent experiences like the cleanup dive I participated in alongside the Ocean Surf Rider Foundation in Tacoma. It was truly heartwarming to witness the minimal amount of trash we found at that dive site. Equally inspiring was the sight of so many people cleaning up parks and beaches on the surface, where they collected far more trash than we did underwater. What particularly warmed my heart was the presence of numerous children at the event, eager and enthusiastic about lending a helping hand. 


Additionally, I find so much joy in seeing our readers share photos of their children recycling cans. It's incredibly heartening to witness their engagement in positive environmental actions. 

Where can people buy your books?

Our books are printed in the USA by BookBaby. You can order them on our website or on BookBaby’s Thanks a MILLION for the support! I hope everyone will enjoy our books and learn a few things! 

If someone is interested in hosting a recycling event in their community, how can they get started?

Visit our website and email me and I can try to help get you on the right path to get it set up. 

Do you have any future projects we should watch out for?

Certainly, there's more to look forward to. We have two additional books in the works, which will complete the series by covering the entire metal recycling process. We're also planning to introduce some worksheets featuring some of our local sea creatures, so keep an eye out for those exciting additions. Furthermore, we're talking about the possibility of developing a metal recycling cartoon series in the future, so stay tuned for more updates!