EcoRubric 12:37 22 May 2024

Environmental solution helps Ukrainian army: recycled bottle caps turn into donations

Rubryka explains whether a plastic cap can help fundraise for the army's needs.

What is the problem?

Fundraisers for the army's needs have become a daily tradition for every Ukrainian. However, as the full-scale war has been ongoing for over two years, it is becoming increasingly difficult for volunteers to engage people in fundraisers. There are so many of them that in order to attract people, it is not enough to simply announce them but to search for ways to encourage people to donate.

However, other social problems have not disappeared. In particular, environmental pollution caused by plastic remains a significant problem that needs a solution. Is it possible to combine aid for the environment and aid for the armed forces? Rubryka went to Odesa to find out.

What is the solution?

The Ukrainian NGO City of the Future launched the "Plastic Saves Life" project, which has attracted volunteers from various charitable foundations and other interested groups. These volunteers collect and sort plastic and establish eco-routes around the city. One of their key initiatives is a nationwide collection of plastic bottle caps, with the proceeds from recycling these caps supporting the Ukrainian army.

Vladyslav Mykhaylenko, the organizer of this initiative, says that the idea of collecting only the caps and not all the plastic appeared at the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The caps are clean, there are many, and they are pretty expensive compared to other raw materials. In addition, there is a factory in Odesa that accepts them for recycling.


At the sorting station. Photo from the author's archive

How does it work?

First, people collect plastic bottle caps at home and bring them to designated collection points. The collected caps are then either mailed to sorting stations across the country or picked up by project volunteers all over Odesa.

At the sorting stations, the caps are checked to ensure they are correctly sorted and suitable for recycling. Next, the NGO sends the caps to Eco Green, a company that accepts them for recycling. At this stage, the volunteers receive money from Eco Green, which is then donated to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The caps are crushed and collected into large bags weighing 10 tons at the factory. These crushed caps are then sold as raw materials to enterprises, where they are used to manufacture various plastic products like hangers or boxes. Some companies, including international ones, purchase these high-quality raw materials due to the thorough sorting process.

Precious Plastic Ukraine also uses the crushed caps, especially those sorted by color, to make furniture. Sorting increases their value significantly: unsorted caps are worth $0.13 per kilogram, sorted caps $0.30, and color-sorted caps up to $0.63 per kilogram.

The organization has conducted two collection campaigns so far. In the first, they collected 11 tons (5.5 million caps) over nine months and used the funds to purchase an ambulance for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, raising approximately $3,500. In the "Plastic Saves Lives 2.0" fundraiser, they collected 12 tons of caps in seven months, bought three drones for the Tsunami regiment of the Liut (Fury) brigade, and raised nearly $4,000.

Currently, there is a dire need for drones. The goal of the "Plastic Saves Lives 3.0" fundraiser is to collect 20 tons of plastic, equivalent to 10 million caps or $6,000. The target is to purchase five drones for the Tsunami regiment.

Recycling process

At the recycling factory, the collected caps are divided into three groups: unsorted caps, sorted caps, and garbage. Volunteers wear gloves because some caps can be dirty. Coordinators and experienced participants guide the volunteers on how to sort the caps properly. Ukrainian music plays in the background, creating a lively atmosphere where volunteers can chat, enjoy themselves, and contribute to helping the country.


At the sorting station. Photo from the author's archive

Iryna, a coordinator at one of the stations, says this project started a month ago. Caps are brought to collection points in various cities across Ukraine, including cafes, libraries, schools, and offices. 

The caps are then sent to sorting stations, where volunteers sort them by type of plastic. The second type of plastic is the most valuable, providing the maximum benefit for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but other types of plastic are also accepted. Occasionally, there are requests to sort the caps by color. The speed of sorting depends on the quality of the caps and the experience of the volunteer. A box can be sorted in about 40 minutes.

Sorting sessions are organized every Saturday and sometimes on weekdays if there are enough willing volunteers. The biggest challenges for the initiative are a lack of time and volunteers.

переробка кришечок

At the sorting station. Photo from the author's archive

Does it really work?

This is the third time Olya has attended the event of the "Plastic Saves Life" project. The volunteer says that she has wanted to do some kind of volunteering for a long time, but she couldn't find anything. 

"Cleaning the environment is always good," she emphasizes.

Olya became interested in recycling plastic while still at school, but it was impossible to implement it — as soon as the collection bag was hung, the school switched to distance learning due to COVID-19 quarantine.

"I thought it would be cool to collect caps from school, melt them into a clock, and then hang it in the classroom. In this way, it would be possible to set an example for others," Olya recalls.

The volunteer perceives the opportunity to help now with inspiration: "When during the war you can collect caps, get money from their processing, and send them to the army—it feels very nice."

переробка кришечок

At the sorting station. Photo from the author's archive

сортування пластикових кришечок

At the sorting station. Photo from the author's archive

Alina Rybakova is a German teacher at Odesa Lyceum No. 90. She came to sort the caps together with 20 students.

"At school, while studying, we try to accustom children to public initiatives, talk about social work and volunteering, and create various fairs to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I believe that such patriotic and social education is also an essential part of education at school. That's why we are here today," says the teacher.

Процес сортування пластикових кришечок

Sorting process. Photo from the author's archive

Even more useful solutions!

Anyone can join the collection effort. Detailed instructions for participating in sorting are available on the NGO City of Dreams' page:

  • The caps must be clean, without any foreign odors or dirt.
  • Caps from water bottles, juices, dairy products, baby food, and other products labeled category 2 – 2 HDPE are suitable.
  • Oil caps are not accepted because oil residues cannot be washed off and will spoil the equipment and plastic during recycling.
  • Metal caps and plastic sprayers should not be handed in either.

For shipment information, you can contact Vladyslav Mykhailenko, the project organizer (@vladyslav_mykhailenko).

Author: Darya Bolhova


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