On Radical Ecology and Tender Gardening

Recycling | Radical Ecology
Man Invents Machine to Convert Plastic Into Oil, 2009

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We are all well aware of plastic's 'rap-sheet'. It has been found guilty on many
counts, including the way its production and disposal raises resource issues and lets loose extremely negative environmental impacts. Typically made from petroleum, it is estimated that 7% of the world's annual oil production is used to produce and manufacture plastic. That is more than the oil consumed by the entire African continent. Thankfully, there are those who fully appreciate that plastic has a higher energy value than anything else commonly found in the waste stream. A Japanese company called Blest created a small, very safe and easy to use machine that can convert several types of plastic back into oil.

Though Japan has much improved its 'effective utilization' rate over the years to 72% in 2006, that leaves 28% of plastic to be buried in landfills or burned. According to Plastic Waste Management Institute data, 'effective utilization' includes not just the 20% that is actually recycled, but also 52% that is being incinerated for "energy recovery" purposes, i.e., generating heat or electric power. "If we burn the plastic,
we generate toxins and a large amount of CO2. If we convert it into oil, we save CO2 and at the same time increase people's awareness about the value of plastic garbage," says Akinori Ito, CEO of Blest.

Blest's conversion technology is very safe because it uses a temperature controlling electric heater rather than flame. The machines are able to process polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene but not PET bottles. The result is a crude gas that can fuel things like generators or stoves and, when refined, can even be pumped into a car, a boat or motorbike. One kilogram of plastic produces almost one liter of oil. To convert that amount takes about 1 kwh of electricity, which is approximately ¥20 or 20 cents' worth.

The company makes the machines in various sizes and has 60 in place at farms, fisheries and small factories in Japan and several abroad. "To make a machine that anyone can use is my dream," Ito says. "The home is the oil field of the future." Perhaps that statement is not as crazy as it sounds, since the makeup of Japanese household waste has been found to contain over 30 % plastic, most of it from packaging.

Continually honing their technology, the company is now able to sell the machines for less than before, and Ito hopes to achieve a product 'that any one can buy'. Currently the smallest version, shown in the videobrief, costs ¥950,000 (US $9,500). [Note of 30 November 2010: Blest informs us that, since we visited them last year, improvements have been made to the machine and the price is now ¥1,06o,000 (around US$12,700) without tax.]