Upcycling trash into treasure

Hawaiian Electric
3 min readApr 22, 2024


By Sharon Higa | April 22, 2024

Above right: Jim Yim, a retired Hawaiian Electric employee, has a new eco-friendly hobby taking throw-away plastic bottle caps and turning them into beautiful coasters.

The first time I visited a recycling center I made the mistake of leaving the plastic caps on the empty water bottles, ignorant to the fact that the hard little nuggets are not recycled in Hawaii. So, you can imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that a retired (and camera-shy) Hawaiian Electric employee has found a way to keep the plastic caps out of the landfill with a creative and practical solution that many can appreciate.

Meet Pearl City resident Jim Yim, a former Facilities project manager who retired from Hawaiian Electric in 2023 after a 30-plus year career. He’s an enthusiastic DIY-er who is skilled in carpentry and papercrafts, but also finds time for gardening, practicing archery, playing mahjong, and most recently, upcycling plastic bottle caps into beautiful coasters.

“I was scrolling through YouTube looking for something I could do, and this appealed to me because it didn’t cost a lot and it was neat to take a throw away piece of trash and make it better.”

Since starting his latest hobby in January 2024, Jim’s collection of plastic caps has grown through donations from friends and family who eagerly await his next creation. He stores the caps in buckets and bins, sorted by colors, and never needs to replenish because once he got the word out about his new hobby, the caps poured in.

“No one in the state recycles the caps because they are made from a different material than the bottles and have a seal inside them that are hard to separate,” said Jim. “But these types of plastics (typically HPDE #2 or Polypropylene #5) can be melted and reused in new products.”

To make one coaster, Jim uses about 100–150 plastic caps that he sorts and cleans to remove dirt which can discolor the final product. To melt the caps together, a layer of bottle caps is placed open side up onto a Teflon baking sheet and loaded on to a panini press Jim purchased second-hand at Goodwill. The bottle caps are covered with another Teflon baking sheet and the panini press closed. The process is repeated for three more layers, with color caps added as a final layer.

Using silicone gloves, the melted caps are twisted and folded to blend the colors and placed in a pre-made wood mold, covered and sealed with clamps to compress the product while it cools, typically 30 minutes to an hour. Jim then cuts the plastic into an octagonal shape and sands the edges. For a nice glossy finish, he adds a layer of epoxy resin and voila!

So how long does a project like this take? “Melting plastic can take half an hour or more,” said Jim. “But for some colors like purple, it can take an hour or more to get the right blend of blue, red and white. Cutting and sanding is about twenty minutes. For the epoxy, it will require overnight to dry in a dust-free environment.”

Family and friends have been the lucky recipients of Jim’s creations and when asked if he would consider selling his works of art, he was quick to reply, “I thought about it but realized it would take too much time. I’m retired. I want to work less, not more!”

We applaud Jim for upcycling trash into treasure, and mahalo everyone for doing their part to reduce, reuse and recycle this Earth Month and all year round.

Sharon Higa is a senior communications consultant at Hawaiian Electric Company.



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