Plastic is practical - but it's also more or less indestructible, environmentally unsustainable and generally all round a bit of a problem. One Japanese inventor has come up with a unique way to tackle the world's ever-growing plastic waste mountains, developing a machine that converts discarded plastic back into oil.
We’ve all read about the mountains of plastic waste piling up around the world, maybe even heard about the terrifying Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a literal vortex of rubbish - much of it plastic waste - floating in the middle of the ocean and growing every day. And faced with these problems, lots of people have already come up with smart ideas to help put an end to them, like the team behind Plastic Bank, the inventors of the Sea Bin, and the brains that have developed ways to make bio-plastics from materials as unexpected as beetles’ armour or even banana skins. And now comes a new innovation, a machine that flips the issue on its head: making plastic into a resource rather than a problem, and converting the material all the way back into oil.
The idea is the brainchild of Japanese inventor Akinori Ito, who presented and demonstrated his innovative recycling method last year at the 2015 TEDx Tokyo Conference. The way the machine works is actually very simple: the plastic waste is put into the machine and heated (rather than being burned - which would release poisonous pollutants). This heating produces gas which is then cooled by water and comes out of the machine on the other side as oil. This oil is then ready to be used again, whether it's to heat ovens or even, in a refined form, as a form of fuel. The whole process takes just a few hours.
Ito, the CEO of the Blest Corporation, has developed a model for domestic and another for industrial use and has already sold several to people both in Japan and abroad. With a price tag of nearly 10,000 EUR, it's obviously not a viable purchase for the general public yet. But if the inventor’s dream becomes true and his plastic converter goes into mass production, the price could well drop. That would enable whole families to liberate themselves from conventional energy sources, as well as decreasing their carbon footprint and reducing the general worldwide demand for crude oil.
You can watch Akinori Ito present his ground-breaking invention in detail here:
The size of the overwhelming mountains of plastic that have already accumulated around the world probably won’t be reduced dramatically by this machine any time soon. But especially in an oil-poor country like Japan, a machine that turns a kilo of plastic into a litre of oil could definitely be a viable option, and it's definitely an incredible technical innovation that could really do some good if it catches on.