Plastic converted to oil in project to raise awareness

New Hope Energy began shredding plastic caps into smaller pieces that will be converted into low sulfur oil.

TYLER, Texas – A non-profit in Hawaii has collected over 1.2 million plastic caps and lids and shipped them to Texas for conversion into oil.

Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.) co-founders Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki spearheaded a campaign to educate people about the harmful impacts of plastic caps to Hawaii’s sea birds, which mistake small, colorful plastic litter as food sources. The community helped them collect more than 1.2 million plastic caps that were transported from Hawaii to California aboard a 40-foot intermodal container that shipping line Matson moved for free.

The plastic caps were delivered to New Hope Energy in Tyler, Texas, where they were first shredded into smaller pieces and then converted into oil using new technology. B.E.A.C.H. had two volunteers who live in Texas observe the process as B.E.A.C.H. co-founders Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki were unable to travel to Texas from Hawaii as planned due to Covid-19.

Conversion to oil

Eugene Royal, special projects manager at New Hope Energy describes the plastic to oil conversion as “involving heating the plastic to a very high temperature and depriving it of oxygen”.  He says that it does not involve any combustion or burning of the plastic.

The oil produced is low in sulfur, making it ideal for powering trains and ships. In this way, using plastic to make oil, rather than digging up pristine areas such as rainforests, the natural environment can be preserved.

It was very important to B.E.A.C.H, which is a non-profit focused on bringing awareness and solutions to plastic marine debris, that this plastic was taken out of the waste stream for good and that 100 percent of the caps were recycled.

Normally the recycling rate for plastic is only about one to two percent worldwide thanks to poor sorting and contamination. However, B.E.A.C.H. made sure that all of the caps sent to Tyler were able to be recycled by training people in how to recycle.

Cleaning and sorting

This involved ensuring that the caps were cleaned, all stickers, seals and metal were removed and the caps were checked to ensure they were numbers 2, 4 or 5. B.E.A.C.H. involved school children across the island of O`ahu as well as volunteers with clubs, businesses and other community groups.

More than 30 organizations took part in sorting and cleaning the caps with many more involved in collecting the caps from home, the work place and at outdoor events. B.E.A.C.H. is not receiving any payment or funds from the recycling of the caps.

The main purpose of the project was to raise awareness in the community of the harm that small plastic litter such as plastic caps cause to sea birds, particularly Laysan Albatrosses. Scientists have found that one hundred percent of Laysan albatrosses studied in Hawai`i had ingested plastic. About 250,000 baby albatrosses die each year with a stomach full of plastic.

“It’s very tragic that all these birds are dying from ingesting plastic,” Frazer said. “The plastic ingested includes caps, toys, lighters, fishing floats and other items particularly if they red, yellow, orange, pink and purple in colour because it resembles their food – squid and fish eggs.”

B.E.A.C.H. educated the participating groups about the problem of sea birds ingesting plastic caps through powerpoint presentations. B.E.A.C.H. also found that plastic caps were one of the most littered items at beach parks and nearby where bottles were collected for recycling. More information about this project can be found here.

Transportation supporters

Matson, Union Pacific Railroad, Pacific Transfer, Loup and TRAC Intermodal all donated costs involved in transporting the caps. Matson provided free shipping from Hawaii to California and waived the container fee as well as helping at the last minute with a change from a 20 foot to a 40 foot shipping container when B.E.A.C.H. had too many caps to fit.

Keahi Birch, Matson’s manager of environmental affairs commented “As a leading ocean carrier serving some of the most pristine environments in the Pacific, Matson has always considered environmental stewardship a part of its business. So, when we were approached by B.E.A.C.H. to support this project, we jumped at the chance. Getting plastics out of the waste stream and out of our oceans is a monumental task and we all have to do our part.”