Ito’s inspiration for the method came from the simple realization that plastic bags are created from oil, thus they should be able to be converted back to their original form. The highly efficient, non-polluting machines can process polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene but not PET bottles, and they can convert 2 lbs. of plastic into a quart of oil using just 1 kilowatt of power. The machine heats the plastic with electricity, then traps the vapors, which it then cools and condenses into crude oil. The crude oil can be used to heat generators and some stoves, and when refined, it can be used for gasoline.
When he first created the process last summer, Ito explained that by converting plastic into oil, we eliminate CO2 pollution and raise the awareness of plastic’s fuel potential. When plastic is burned — a common way to recover potential energy sources — it generates a large amount of toxins and CO2.
While the end product is still a fuel that will be burned and give off CO2, the innovative recycling method could revolutionize the way certain plastics are treated. Because the system is made for households, it could create an energy independence among consumers, and lessen the need to extract more oil from the earth.
Unfortunately, the machine currently retails for about $10,000. But Ito hopes to bring that price down by increased production once the product becomes more widespread.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Each year America uses 380 million plastic bags and only 7 percent of them are recycled. If we can convert the everyday product into a source of fuel, it would greatly decrease the amount of plastic piling up in landfills.