KAPA‘A — After four years of contemplating, Abe Kowitz finally started his company Plastic Paradise, LLC in hopes of making a difference with Kaua‘i’s plastic consumption issues and provide jobs for the community in the future.
“There is an organization called ‘Precious Plastic,’ an open-source, grassroots recycling organization,” Kowitz said. “I learned about them shortly before I learned about China refusing to accept America’s plastics. I realized that our recycling system nationally, and internationally, is broken. I have the aptitude for doing things like developing products, building machines, problem-solving all the things that happen with that. So I decided to just go for it.”
Kowitz’s recycled products start from $25 for small pots and up to $300 for a bench.
“As soon as I started to let the community know what I’m doing, I received a text message from somebody from a museum that asked ‘Can you make picnic tables,’” Kowitz said. “I said ‘Yes,’ I fully intend to, it requires a lot of plastic to make a picnic table. I’m working my way up. And they said, ‘Well when you figured out how to make a picnic table and you figured out your price, let us know we want to put in an order.’”
The community is encouraged to drop clean plastic with no labels, like No. 2 high-density polyethylene products which include shampoo bottles or No. 5 polypropylene, “which currently isn’t collected through the traditional recycling process here on the island,” Kowitz said. “Like yogurt containers and large plastic bins that you buy at Home Depot.”
Kowitz said he only accepts plastic at collection events through signup at www.PlasticParadiseKauai.com/collection. The next event is at the Old Koloa Town Market, but Kowitz is searching for a more collection points on island. He said the challenge of making sure that people give him ready to recycle plastic makes it hard to have just a regular drop-off.
“A lot of people will mistakenly put things that aren’t recyclable in the bin, or think, ‘Just a little bit of a label,’” Kowitz said. “When it’s not, because it can contaminate the rest of the plastic and make it unusable. So yeah, it’s an uphill battle to educate the public on what makes for recyclable plastic.”
Kowitz said he has been in communication with the county’s Solid Waste and Recycling Department.
“They are familiar with what I’m doing,” Kowitz said. “And they’re doing what they can to help me, however, the challenge of recycling plastic is a lot greater than what most people realize. Absolutely clean and without a label is the only way you can actually make good products. It is very hard to receive a volume of plastic that does not have anything.”
Eventually, Kowitz’s goal is to create jobs as a way to give back to the community and to work with nonprofits.
“So once I established my system, I’ll be hiring people to do all the work for me,” Kowitz said. “And ideally, I would like to be able to make enough money off of this endeavor to where I can take any funds after covering all my costs, to go to raising awareness about plastic through the help of nonprofits, and also getting more equipment to do the harder to recycle things like ocean plastic, and dirty plastic, etc.”
Kowitz is even considering working with nonprofits that clean Kaua‘i beaches and collect plastic waste.
“So the washing process with regard to ocean plastic is a composite one,” Kowitz said. “And it basically requires a facility like in addition to what I have, it’s very possible. And it’s merely just a matter of manpower. And I don’t want to say the challenge is funding because once I’m able to actually do it, I’m certain that I will find funding to do so.”
According to Kowitz, roughly 10% of recyclable plastic actually gets recycled — every piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists. He said, “It takes 400 years to break down plastic.”
“The best way to care for the environment is to choose alternatives to plastic,” Kowitz said. “So our current recycling methods, there is a company contracted to collect our plastics from the drop-off points that are set up around the island. And they separate the non-recyclables from recyclables. And the number ones and number twos from each other.
“And they look for a buyer once the shipping container that they send it off in his boat. So it only happens about once a year. And that’s our recycling system for plastic on the island,” Kowitz said.
Kowitz said he is motivated by the moral support he receives from conversations of a better recycling process for the ‘aina.
“The positive feedback from the islands and the enthusiasm behind what I’m doing is just so helpful and the process of solving all these little challenges and moving forward.”
This story has been edited on July 12 at 3:48 p.m. for accuracy.
Stephanie Shinno, education and business reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.