$10,000-Gizmo Lets You Turn Plastic Bags Back Into Petroleum

By Patrick Morgan | February 17, 2011 5:43 pm

You could be spared the guilt of forgetting your eco-friendly cloth shopping bag on the trip to the grocery: A Japanese inventor has created the first home recycling system that can convert all those extra plastic bags back into oil.

His name is Akinori Ito, and his invention is now for sale through Blest Corporation. According to the website, one model–the Desk-top Waste Plastic Oiling System–weighs a mere 110 pounds. But the best part is that this non-polluting conversion process is also highly efficient: two pounds of plastic can be converted into one quart of oil using a mere kilowatt-hour of energy (a cost of roughly 20 cents).

It works by capturing the vapors released by heated plastic, and then funneling them through a network of pipes and water chambers, which gradually cool the vapors until they coalesce back into crude oil–where the plastics originally came from.

That process creates oil that can power certain types of stoves and generators–and more refining can turn it into gasoline. But as Clean Technica duly notes:

Of course, the end product of this conversion system is still fuel that must be burned, and thus, it will give off CO2 as part of the combustion process. Still, recycling is a cornerstone of environmentalism, and such systems, if they became wide-spread, could offer a form of energy independence to consumers and seriously lessen demand for more extraction as we transition into a carbon-neutral (or “clean,” carbon-negative) energy economy.

The concept of turning plastics back into oil isn’t anything new–there’s a power company called Envion, in Washington, D.C., that has been making oil from waste plastic  since 2009. What’s new here is how this Japanese inventor has made the technology viable for the home consumer. With the United States generating 50 million tons of waste plastic every year, any further incentive to recycle plastic–albeit to make fossil fuels–qualifies as a noble endeavor.

However, at $10,000, the cost of this recycling system is still a bit too steep to make much of an impact–although Ito hopes to gradually reduce the price if demand rises. In the meantime, several states give you a more prosaic option: You can bundle up your excess plastic bags and schlep them back to the grocery store for recycling.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Got Too Many Plastic Bags? Recycle Them Into Nanotubes
Discoblog: It’s In the Bag! Teenager Wins Science Fair, Solves Massive Environmental Problem
80beats: Plastic-Loving Raptors Use Nest Decor to Advertise Their Status
DISCOVER: The Dirty Truth About Plastic
DISCOVER: Anything Into Oil

Image: flickr / Zainub

  • http://www.harveylacey.com harvey lacey

    Penny wise, pound foolish.

    Seriously, if you watch the the video you see the plastics he’s using are numbers one, two and three. Those plastics cleaned and shredded are worth sixty plus cents per pound as raw material for new plastics production.

    Do you think for a minute that he’s pulling out sixty cents worth of fuel for each pound of plastic he’s putting into his machine.

    It should be noted that if you click on my name you will see why I’m so smart aobut this stuff.

  • Grimmy

    Actually anything hydrocarbon-based can be turned into oil – even tires and turkey guts (search for “anything into oil”). Last I heard it was $100+ a barrel.

    For some reason, people are focusing on plastics only, but there is a much larger potential.

  • PJ

    I am not a science geek; but I do see what is happening around the world…garbage and alot of it is plastic. If we can recycle plastic at home, let’s do it. Save the fuel for your lawnmower, or car or whatever…but is is a beginning to maintaining huge garbage sites throughout the U.S. and other countries. The problem will never be solved, there are just too many people, too many people that don’t care, and the gadget is too expensive to buy.

  • http://twitter.com/leslieJ81 Leslie Jacobs

    This is Awesome! Recently I saw some pieces on shows like
    CNN and the journal with Joan Lunden on PBS that were talking about issues and
    solutions for industrial recycling. This kind of thing takes it to the next
    level. Of course it’s not as good as eliminating oil altogether but it will
    help get rid of some of the waste for now. Plus, it  looks like the contraption that fueled the back to the
    future car.


  • Vikram

    Hi, what type of process is used to convert plastics to oil? Is it destructive distillation process?

  • Christian Briggs

    Ummm, since the end product of almost all oil is to be burnt for energy anyway, why wouldn’t you just burn the bags and cut out the energy expensive middle-man? The pollution is the same whether you burn the bags or turn it to oil then burn the oil. This is like carving the face of the mona lisa on your firewood before you burn it.

  • http://twitter.com/Boydist Chris Boyd

    The real benefit here is the fact that we won’t have to dump plastics back into the environment, particularly the oceans. The toxicity of the Pacific Plastic Gyre and that fact that it has already feedback to humans will make this technology very beneficial. 

    We’re still going to burn oil for a long time to come, so let’s burn plastic bags as well and keep them out of the oceans.


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