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Freight

From Plastic Waste to Fuel—Improving the Environment


Written by


Union Pacific
, Corporate Communications

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New Hope Energy began shredding plastic caps into smaller pieces that will be converted into low sulfur oil, after Union Pacific and its subsidiary, Loup transported a 40-foot intermodal container carrying B.E.A.C.H.’s plastic bottle caps from the Port of Long Beach, Calif., to New Hope Energy’s facility in Tyler, Tex., at no charge.

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 more than 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.

On Oct. 16, Union Pacific, through its Loup Logistics subsidiary, delivered the plastic caps, collected by Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign (B.E.A.C.H.) in Hawaii, to New Hope Energy, Tyler, Tex., where they were shredded into smaller pieces and then converted into oil using new technology. B.E.A.C.H. has 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 diesel engines in locomotives 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, 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 Oahu 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 cap recycling.

The project’s main purpose 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 (Hyrenbach, Hester, Young, Vanderlip) have found that 100% of Laysan albatrosses studied in Hawaii had ingested plastic. About 250,000 baby albatrosses die each year with a stomach full of plastic.

A mother Laysan Albatross regurgitates food containing plastic waste into her hungry chick’s mouth. About 250,000 baby albatrosses die each year with a stomach full of plastic.

This project would not have been possible without the generous help of sponsors. 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 helped 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 them all in the 20-foot. Pacific Transfer helped reload the new container as well as truck the caps on the island of Oahu.

B.E.A.C.H. co-founders Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki spearheaded a campaign to educate people about the harmful impacts of plastic bottle caps to Hawaii’s sea birds, which mistake small, colorful plastic litter as food sources. The community helped the organization collect more than 1.2 million plastic caps, which were transported from Hawaii to California aboard an intermodal container donated by Matson, which waived shipping fees from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.

From the Port of Long Beach, the container was loaded onto a railcar and transported to Dallas by UP. “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, and TRAC Intermodal assisted through waiving chassis fees.

Suzanne Frazer, cofounder of B.E.A.C.H., said, “It’s very tragic that all these birds are dying from ingesting plastic, which includes caps, toys, lighters, fishing floats and other items, particularly if they are red, yellow, orange, pink or purple in color because it resembles their food—squid and fish eggs.” Frazer educated all 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 locations where bottles are collected for recycling.

About 250,000 baby albatrosses die each year with a stomach full of plastic.

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.”

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 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.” 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.”

Project Sponsors and Partners

Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.) brings awareness and solutions to plastic marine debris through environmental education of all ages, marine debris removal and research; and plastic reduction/litter prevention campaigns. B.E.A.C.H. aims to inspire people to take actions to prevent and reduce marine debris in order to protect Hawaii’s marine life, sea birds and ocean/coastal environment.

Matson was founded in 1882 and is a leading provider of ocean transportation and logistics services. Matson’s fleet provides a vital lifeline to the domestic non-contiguous economies of Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam, and to other island economies in Micronesia. Matson also operates a premium, expedited service from China to Southern California and provides services to Okinawa, Japan and various islands in the South Pacific. Matson Logistics, established in 1987, extends the geographic reach of Matson’s transportation network throughout the continental U.S.  Its integrated, asset-light logistics services include rail intermodal, highway brokerage, warehousing, freight consolidation, Asia supply chain services, and forwarding to Alaska.

Union Pacific Railroad connects 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country by rail, providing a critical link in the global supply chain. Union Pacific operates from all major West Coast and Gulf Coast ports to eastern gateways, connects with Canada’s rail systems and is the only railroad serving all six major Mexico gateways. Union Pacific serves 10,000 customer delivering products in a safe, reliable, fuel-efficient and environmentally responsible manner.  

Loup Logistics is a Union Pacific subsidiary that provides door-to-door shipping and logistics services for companies shipping almost any commodity.  Loup combines shipping modes to create the most effective, efficient and economical transportation solutions on the market.

TRAC Intermodal is North America’s leading marine chassis pool manager and equipment provider, with 180,000 marine chassis fleet and 11 pools under management. For more than 50 years, TRAC has been setting the industry standard in quality, reliability and innovation, offering top quality marine and specialty chassis. TRAC’s pools offer unmatched flexibility with start-stop locations near all major port and rail facilities, while term lease programs provide customers with options to supplement their fleet with a high-performing equipment.

Pacific Transfer was founded in 1978 and is one of the largest professional transportation providers serving Hawai’i’s trucking needs. As a family owned locally run business, Pacific Transfer believes that preserving our island home for future generations is of great importance.  

Anacostia Rail Holdings subsidiary Pacific Harbor Line serves the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles.

The Port of Long Beach is one of the world’s premier seaports, a gateway for trans-Pacific trade and a trailblazer in goods movement and environmental stewardship. With 175 shipping lines connecting Long Beach to 217 seaports, the Port handles $170 billion in trade annually, supporting more than 575,000 Southern California jobs and almost 2.6 million in the United States.

New Hope Energy is a pioneering industrial technology company developing advanced recycling technology to make a  circular economy available for waste and plastics. New Hope Energy strategically builds and operates plants close to plastic providers and buyers.  

*Single-use plastic, banned in Europe

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