One nation’s trash another’s treasure

A friendly reminder, the mass of floating plastic north and east of the Hawaiian islands is increasing, covering an estimated area twice the size of the state of Texas, and weighing grossly estimated at 7 million tons. It is increasing at an exponential rate now due to steadily increasing production rates of all plastics by industry. That is the bad news.

The good news is that there is value in the plastic. Try 1 pound of waste plastic equals 1 pound of anthracite coal, caloric value. Oil to plastic, plastic to oil. Oil has value. The floating mass is a resource.


The good news is that there are a number of emerging technologies to process the plastic into usable and salable oils. One English system, that occupies about the footprint of a tennis court, is designed to fit as modular units into Matson-type shipping containers for site assembly.

The estimated efficiency rate is 75 percent of plastic to oil. One ton of the oils produced by this particular system are worth $420 estimated current market value in England. If there is approximately 7 million tons of this floating plastic, do the math: couple billion dollars in oil value, plus or minus a few hundred million.

That’s potential profit.

The good news is that there are a number of robotic harvesters to gather the plastic from the sea and deliver it to a processing facility, floating. Existing, and being tested and developed.

If we have one or several plastic to oil conversion systems in Hawaii nei, some on water and some on land, most of the plastic waste could be converted to oil available to Hawaii or for sale, and make cleanup efforts profitable to a degree. Jobs, profit, tax dollars.

The bad news is if we, or anyone, decided to do this today, the start up and lag for delivery is about three to five years.

The bad news is I don’t know the status of jurisdiction to the enormous mass of waste plastic.

More good news is eminent domain and Manifest Destiny (American as apple pie) apply and I say we go for it, ASAP. Possession is 9/10ths.

The alternate is an ever increasing death zone, loss of harvestable fish and increasing invasion of plastic particles into the food chain, already estimated at up to 10 percent of all fish, which we eat.


The hour is already late, and time is of the essence. I am certain this will work. Let’s do it.

Jay Failing is a resident of Waimea.