Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki were walking the beaches of Hawaii in 2005 when they saw debris on the beach, and more alarmingly, in the water.
In 2006 they founded B.E.A.C.H. (Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawai’i) to not only work on cleaning up and recycling, but raising awareness and bringing solutions to Hawaii, a state where proper recycling facilities are hard to come by.
Despite setback after setback, Frazer refused to go down. And this week in Tyler, 15 years of work had a happy ending.
Over 1.2 million plastic bottle caps were converted into oil at New Hope Energy. Companies came together and volunteered to have a 40-foot container (it was originally 20 feet, but doubled with more collections) shipped to California, hauled by freight to Dallas, and then delivered to Tyler.
“We were so happy that we found New Hope Energy because this is new technology to convert plastic to oil,” Frazer said. “We’ve been looking at places to do this for some time. Some companies had tried but could not do it. New Hope Energy was able to create and sell oil and continue to operate through the pandemic. We are so grateful and appreciative to get help from a number of sponsors to help ship and transport the plastic.”
Frazer explained, “Here, in the middle of the Pacific, there are no recycling facilities. We can sort and collect, but to ship costs a great deal of money. It’s not very feasible to do a lot of recycling in Hawaii because of the costs.”
That’s where the nightmares began. Frazer and Otsuki would go to the redemption centers where residents receive 5 cents per water or drink bottle. They would see hundreds of bottle caps on the ground. There were also bottle caps in the ocean harming the fish and birds, as well as different plastics all over the beach. They would call a city about recycling and get told it was a county issue, then a state issue and sometimes even a military issue. Then get directed back to calling the city again. Some places were able to incinerate some of the plastic, but it all went into filling landfills.
“The advantage of using New Hope Energy is, we get over 1.2 million plastic caps or lids out of the environment forever. They will never harm an animal or bird. They will not be litter or become plastic ever again. It’s a one-off project that has taken years,” Frazer said. “People say, ‘It doesn’t matter if I throw this little candy wrapper on the ground.’ Well, yes, it does matter. And to get in the habit not to buy those bottles. Use your own refillable bottle.
“It has not been not all smooth sailing and would have been easy to give up. One company said they would pick (the bottle caps) and take them indoors. They left them outside and we had to dump them all out, drain them and clean them,” Frazer continued. “Another company collected 25 barrels and then threw them out. At that point, we realized we could not partner with anyone to make sure recycling succeeded.”
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.”
Royal said there was no combustion or burning of the plastic. The oil produced is low in sulfur, making it ideal for powering trains and ships, he said.
By using plastic to make oil “rather than digging up pristine areas such as rainforests, the natural environment can be preserved.”
"By using plastic to make oil rather than digging up pristine areas such as rainforests, the natural environment can be preserved" said Frazer.
Frazer said a lot of sorting of caps had to be done because all plastics are different. Hawaii has to deal with litter dumped in the ocean from 20 different countries.
She said, “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. 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 workplace and at outdoor events. B.E.A.C.H. is not receiving any payment or funds from the recycling of the caps.”
Frazer and Otsuki said the small plastic litter such as plastic caps causes injury and death to sea birds, particularly Laysan Albatrosses. They spoke to an official at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands on Midway Island who estimated 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. The plastic ingested includes caps, toys, lighters, fishing floats and other items particularly if they are red, yellow, orange, pink and purple in color because it resembles their food – squid and fish eggs.” said Frazer.
Matson, Union Pacific Railroad, Pacific Transfer, Loup and TRAC Intermodal all donated costs involved in transporting the caps. Frazer said Matson provided free shipping from Hawaii to California and waived the container fee.
Keahi Birch, Matson’s manager of environmental affairs, said, “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.”
Pacific Transfer helped reload the new container as well as truck the caps on the island of O‘ahu.
Shelley Choi, director of corporate services at Pacific Transfer said, “We are proud to play a part in support of B.E.A.C.H. and its efforts to raise awareness and educate our community and keiki of the detriments of plastic litter; and in its innovative charge to clean up and protect our island beaches, revered oceans, and local wildlife.”
Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach where the container arrived by ship said, “This innovative recycling project shows how the supply chain can bring people together to help the environment. The Port of Long Beach is pleased to be part of a partnership that found a way to both protect wildlife and conserve resources.”
From the Port of Long Beach, the container was loaded onto a rail car and transported to Dallas aboard a Union Pacific train.
“Union Pacific is committed to protecting the environment and proud to support B.E.A.C.H.’s community-driven effort by transporting its massive collection of plastic caps for recycling,” said Jacque Bendon, Union Pacific vice president, industrial. “Railroads are one of the most environmentally responsible freight transportation modes, making this partnership a natural fit for our team.”
Loup, a Union Pacific subsidiary, arranged the shipping container’s delivery via truck from Dallas to New Hope Energy in Tyler. TRAC Intermodal assisted through waiving chassis fees.
Dan Walsh, CEO of TRAC Intermodal said, “We are honored to support this B.E.A.C.H project and its eco-friendly solutions for the ocean and coastal environment. We hope our involvement will bring about new opportunities to protect wildlife and push towards a new era of sustainability.”