Plastic Goes Fantastic: DIY Fuel From Plastic Bags

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Plastic Goes Fantastic: DIY Fuel From Plastic Bags

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We all know that “disposable” plastic bags are bad for the environment. The good news is that we now know that they can be melted down, refined and used as fuel!

The single-use, flimsy plastic grocery bag—the kind that we still find in the produce departments of major grocery stores—perhaps epitomize the urgency of what we all need to do to take control of our environmental future.

Although the bags have now been banned from use in many settings across the USA and elsewhere, they still seem to be everywhere. In New York City, citizens are especially concerned about the plastic bags which flutter into the branches of trees during high winds. Bag-snaggers working for the Bette Midler-founded New York Restoration Project retrieve and recycle them by the hundreds of thousands each year.

And the effects of plastic waste are witnessed most dramatically at sea. Floating in the North Pacific Ocean (approximately 135ºW to 155ºW and 35ºN to 42ºN) is a slow-moving trash heap, composed primarily of plastic waste, ranging from plastic bags to the six-pack separators in which beverages are sold, gelled together with chemical sludge and other waste. Most of the waste (80%) comes from shore, the rest from vessels at sea.

Many sea-creatures, including sea-turtles, albatross and other birds, and jellyfish, are damaged by consuming floating plastic debris which mimics their food. The plastic not only blocks the stomach of the animal, but also can absorb toxins present in sea-water, potentially poisoning anything that eats it. Many efforts are currently underway to measure, contain and remove the patch, and to control future microplastics marine pollution.

For now, plastic bags are part of life on earth. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to Japanese inventor Akinori Ito. Ito has developed a tabletop machine which melts down plastic bags and other plastic waste into oil, using tap water as a coolant in the system. Ito identifies plastic waste as “the fuel of the future.”  The fuel produced by Ito’s machine may be used in stoves, boilers, generators and cars.

The unit converts 1 kg (about 2 lbs) of plastic bags into 1 liter (a little more than a US quart) of refined oil, using just one kilowatt of energy. The device traps the vapors during the various steps of refinement. No wonder Ito’s device won the “Gold Lobe” award from Mental Floss Magazine!

Ito states that the current device is a prototype, since the retail price for the unit currently would be around $10,000 USD. However, the machine may be easily adapted to a consumer rental business model, like a carpet cleaner or other professional device used for DIY home use.

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