The sheer volume of plastic waste entering our biosphere is beyond belief. I am concerned, have given it a lot of thought, and done some research. Following is my humble opinion as to several developments which offer the potential of help in combating the plague.
Firstly, plastic is derived from oil, which is valuable. There are several firms that have developed conversion systems which break down the plastic(s) back to usable oil. One in particular is Recycling Technologies in England.
They have successfully developed a system which takes all plastics, and converts them back into four usable oils, from a high octane fuel to mid viscosity, to a waxy base substance. The systems are designed to fit into Matson-type shipping containers, thus can ship anywhere worldwide. They are being used now in Northern Europe, and other locations. I opened a line of communication with them, and the most popular RT 7000 system delivered to Hawaii would cost $6 million. I envision first a land based system, on at least one island, where all plastic waste is taken, with some payment for the plastic to those delivering.
I don’t think it will be highly profitable, but at this point we still have a window to implement solutions to many clear and present threats to our planet, and all living things, including us. As it has been confirmed, there is a plastic mass in a ocean current “gyre” north and east of Hawaii which is somewhere in the square-mile size of Texas. In some places 10 to 30 feet thick. It is degrading, and breaking down into micro pieces, which are already showing up in seafood and the oceanic aquatic food chain.
My idea is that another of the Recycling Technologies unit be mounted on a barge or ship, most likely a catamaran, and harvesters bring the floating plastic to this processor, much the same way fishermen deliver to processors at sea.
The harvesters are also being developed rapidly, with many robotic models being tested as second generation. I think we can assume drones could be used to direct the harvest to areas of greatest concentration. Robotic harvesters might work in a manner like mowing a lawn, clearing increasing areas of the floating plastics. Once delivered back to barge, the plastic would be processed into the oils, which have value. There would be return to the cost of cleanup, whether it is profitable or not, is yet to be seen, but could be over time.
Most likely federal or state subsidies would be needed to begin this operation. What is the alternative? https://unreasonablegroup.com/companies/recycling-technologies/
As far as the land-based processor, I have noted many homeless people working very hard in the hot sun for cans and recyclables; with subsidy, there could enough cash for them to glean waste plastic wherever it is found on the islands, gathering and delivering to drop off points.
In closing on this first idea, the plastic has value when recycled and can be turned into fuel which could be used in Hawaii. Some of our usual markets for plastic are changing and becoming unavailable.
Secondly, clear back in 2007, I read about Joseph Longo, one of those brilliant eccentric people who works alone for the most part, and does great things. He developed a operational system which accepted nearly all waste types, which fed into a chamber which had astronomical temperatures, creating a plasma state, where the materials broke down into their original basic elements. It was non-polluting, produced a fuel of some type, and an inert glass slag which has uses as well.
In later articles I have read, Japan and some countries in Scandinavia, and Germany are using the systems. I am trying to find the current status on how they are performing. Like any tech, it evolves, with subsequent generations, and falls in cost per unit as well. If we look at this technology, it is all about extreme temperatures to break down the waste without pollution levels seen at lower temperature burning.
Many years ago, I visited Fluor Corporation in Orange County, California to see my brother, who was a corporate attorney there. He took me on a tour, and in one R&D section, they had developed an extreme temperature system which burned tires, without pollution. Considering they are oil Industry related, not sure why this tech did not come to use in our nation.
I have also read of coal burning systems, which, likewise, at high enough temperature, do not pollute. It is all about reduced profit for less pollution and extreme temperatures. Granted, these systems may require energy input to get up to speed we do not have on island at this time, but when did stumbling points hold back American ingenuity?
I think we need to look at what is working in other places, and not try to recreate the wheel. Landfills do not work for the longrun. I urge our lawmakers to do homework on what already exists and works.
I believe in the many powerful and creative minds who end up here in Hawaii, to give it some thought. We must work together for our younger generations to survive for the long run.
Jay Coffin is a resident of Waimea.