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Susan Perko

Earlier this week, the United Nations held a summit on climate change, to discuss potential plans and action.

For some, speaking and demonstrating are ways to make a political statement.

Susan Perko uses art.

The 77-year-old Edgemont resident has been active in environmentalism since she was 10.

“I went to camp in Vermont and we had mandatory composting,” Perko said.

Just a few years ago, Perko attended a climate march and sat under a tree next to another woman. Two men asked the women how they got interested in the cause. After speaking to the men, the two women found out they went to the same camp.

Today, Perko focuses on proper recycling and using reusable water bottles. Her way of taking action is by handing out painted glass Snapple bottles that she repurposed and sanitized.

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Perko’s endeavor started about seven years ago when she was auditing an economics class at Westchester Community College. The instructor showed the class “Tapped,” a documentary that focused on the bottled water industry and its social, economic and ecologic effects.

Prior to watching the film, Perko didn’t know anything about the popular bottled water brand Poland Spring.

Perko was concurrently auditing a painting class at the college.

Finding the supplies that worked best for her took some time.

“I experimented with about five or 10 brands of paint until I settled on one that goes through the oven,” she said. “It’s very cheap, it’s about $2 per bottle, which will last for 100 glass bottles.”

Perko’s inspiration for her floral design came from a toddler who took a sponge with paint and dabbed it all over the bottle.

“It looked wonderful,” she said. “I was already painting them in a different way, but a 2-year-old could do it.”

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Susan Perko works on her art.

Because of the amount of work that goes into painting the bottle, Perko asks those who want a bottle to pay $15 and to read her statement that’s attached to the bottle, as a way to educate themselves about the industry and actually use the bottle rather than put it on a shelf.

Perko paints about 24 bottles at a time, and one bottle typically takes about 10 to 15 minutes to paint. She allows the paint to dry for an hour in between colors. While the beauty and art appear in the glass bottle itself, the caps require even more work.

“I prime them, let them dry and, 24 hours later, I paint them with enamel, place a little star on the top and when that dries, I make sure the paint didn’t migrate underneath the cap,” Perko explained. “I put a little Clorox® in the cap and let them soak for 15 minutes.”

Then, she takes a ribbon that coordinates with the bottle’s colors and hangs her mission from the cap.

After all her hard work, Perko said she tries to strike up a conversation with people and pass the bottles out.

“I started chatting with a woman going out to the parking lot [at the County Center],” Perko said. “She just seemed like somebody to whom I should give a bottle.”

Using a variety of different colors, Perko said people have a choice between pink, blue, purple and yellow.

Perko’s work to encourage people to drink water from reusable water bottles goes beyond the message to cut the use of plastic.

She also takes issue with the privatization of water.

According to foodandwaterwatch.org, by privatizing water and sewer systems, local government officials relinquish control over a vital public resource. If tap water becomes a private source, it may become more difficult for residents to voice their choices or concerns.

The website further states that investor-owned utilities charge 59% more for water service than local government utilities. So, if a town’s water is privatized, water rates can increase on a yearly basis.

“It gets much more expensive,” Perko said. “It’s a public right, but it’s happening all over the world.”

When Perko was in Paris, she said she saw a huge sign that said “Suez Ready for the Revolution and Resources.”

“Their people are making a lot of money, their CEOs are probably making a couple million dollars each year,” she said.

While it takes a great deal of effort to do something that might end up having  little impact, it’s the action that means something to Perko.

She said she hopes other people will encourage others to become educated about these issues, because too many people think it’s good to buy bottled water. Her project, she said “is just a starting point.” 

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