It’s not the plastic water bottle that causes the most harm to sea birds, but the cap which is mistaken for food. A non-profit in Hawaii ensured that over 1.2 million plastic caps and lids will never get into the environment and harm sea birds by taking action to collect and recycle them. But this is no ordinary type of recycling which aims to turn a plastic product back into another plastic product with the addition of more plastic.
The plastic caps were delivered to New Hope Energy 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. 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 Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (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% of the caps were recycled. It is not the norm for 100% of plastic to be recycled. Normally the recycling rate for plastic is only about 1-2% worldwide as usually it is not sorted well enough and there is contamination of the wrong types of plastic or non-plastic items. 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. 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.