How plastic could be part of energy solutions

Ode Magazine    Yobo Member
November 2nd, 2010

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By Anne Thomas

The environmental crisis is indeed alarming, but it is also an opportunity to bring visualization skills, teamwork, and creativity to the fore. In Japan, rubbish bins for paper, plastic bottles and tin cans are ubiquitously lined up in front of supermarkets, convenience stores and in train stations. For household trash every week there are days for burnable rubbish, days for plastics and days for bottles, glass and cans. Twice a year there are “Big Garbage Days,” which means large amounts of newspapers, cardboard boxes, and old clothes are collected. But you can buy special stickers anytime and have someone from the city come to collect more bulky items that need discarding. And there are private trucks that go round collecting paper and large throwaways, too. Recycling is an integral part of everyday life here.

Many of the police uniforms and furoshiki (cloth folded and tied as a carry bag: a very old tradition) are now made from recycled plastic bottles. Buses go by with signs proudly saying that they are run on salad oil. In buildings main windows face east to catch the warmth of the rising sun. And traditionally only one room of a home was, and often still is, heated in winter.

In addition to these, I recently heard about a man who has invented a remarkable machine that turns plastic into oil. His name is Akinori Ito and he works for Blest Company. In a YouTube video about him, he explained that as a child he loved playing outside, but had no concept of the environment. But once he had children of his own and saw how much less open space they had to play in, he became acutely aware of the problem.

In the clip he says “we,” which means that he and his colleagues got together and came up with the realization that modern technology could be used to turn plastic into oil. “It’s not hard,” he said, “after all, plastic is originally made from oil, so why not reverse the process and extract oil out of plastic?”

His company designed a small, easy-to-use, easy-to-transport machine that gobbles up any sort of plastic, melts it down, turns it into gas, and finally into oil. One kilogram of plastic yields about one liter of oil. This oil can be further separated into gasoline, diesel, or kerosene. That means cars, motorcycles, generators, boilers, and kerosene heaters can all run on this oil.

This machine itself is a wonder, and Akinori Ito goes to the developing world to teach about the stupendous potential of plastic. He usually goes to schools, talks to the children and teachers and sends them out to collect plastic. Then he demonstrates the use of the machine, so everyone can see how simple and useful it is. The kids, of course, get their parents and other adults involved, and then the whole movement is underway.

Akinori Ito says we can reduce CO2 as much as 80% by using recycled plastic. “Plastic is not waste,” he says, “it is a treasure.”

Watch the video below to learn more about this truly revolutionary invention:

This story originally appeared at People, Passion, Possibilities, a section of Ode Magazine devoted to its bloggers.

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