Feb. 15, 2011 at 4:54 PM ET
A Japanese inventor has created a machine suitable for home use that can turn plastic waste into fuel, a technological feat that could give us something to do with all the grocery sacks piling up under our kitchen sinks.
The plastic in bags, bottles, caps and other packaging products is made from oil. Akinori Ito's machine turns it back to its original form via a carbon-negative process. It heats up the plastic, traps the vapors in a system of pipes and water chambers that cool the vapors and condense them back into crude oil, explains the website Clean Technica. The crude is suitable for use in generators and some types of stoves. It can be further refined into gasoline.
The machine is sold by Ito's Blest Corporation and is praised for its efficiency: It can convert a kilogram of plastic waste into a liter of oil using a kilowatt-hour of energy. The current system costs $10,000, but Ito hopes the price will fall as demand and production rise.
Ito's machine isn't the first to convert waste plastic into fuel, but is gaining kudos for its size: It's built for home use. Other solutions are larger, such as the Envion Oil Generator, which is capable of processing 10,000 tons of plastic waste annually. Each ton of waste translates to three to five barrels of crude oil that can be further refined to commercial fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. A demonstration plant opened in Washington in 2009.
While burning the oil created by these machines releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change, they are solutions to the growing piles of waste plastic. According to Envion, about 50 million tons of plastic waste is generated each year. If all that was converted back to oil, it would also help reduce reliance on foreign oil, the company says.
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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).