Plastic Possibilities

Ocean conservancy estimates give us this thought to chew on: with the rate of plastic waste today, the oceans could have 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of finfish.

The Philippines ranks 3rd in plastic waste generation in the world.  The forerunners were China followed by Indonesia.  (Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic- free ocean by Ocean Conservancy, 2015).  Numbers shout louder than words.

Among the polymer group, plastics (specifically polyethylene or PE) may very well be the black sheep.  It’s true that this brilliant material revolutionized our way of life but it has a blow back—with a bite.  The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) from University of California and the University of Georgia in Athens projected that by 2025 the seas would contain around 155 million metric tons of plastic.  Garbage gyres—those swirls of floating debris have been popping up in the ocean surface.  But that comprises only a single digit percentage of the numbers, most end up at the bottom of the ocean choking life and overturning the delicate balance of marine ecosystem.

In a nutshell, here is the origin story of plastics.3

Plastics apparently did not start out as synthetic.  If so, then wouldn’t it be cost-effective to return it to its origin?

It has been done!  NECESSITY, rather than pure creativity, IS THE MOTHER OF INNOVATION.

Waste management has become the multimillion dollar industry of the future, along with data mining and cyber security.  Recycling through mechanical means or chemical means as a way of containing the insoluble garbage problem became the buzzword of the century.  One company’s trash is truly another industry’s treasure.

Japanese company, Blest, founded by Mr. Akinori Ito have invented a portable machine that converts plastic to fuel.  In Science speak, the polyethylene and polypropylene (which create different types of plastics) are a chain of hydrocarbons—imagine a paperclip chain.

4If you cut the chain using heat into shorter links, it becomes oil.  When the links are cut even shorter, diesel is the product.  Shorten it even further, it turns to gasoline.  Sounds simple right?  Mr. Ito pragmatically calls his invention oil conversion machine.   The calculation is that 1kg plastic waste yields 1L of oil.

Plastic-to-fuel pioneer in the Philippines, Mr. Jayme Navarro, made waves around the world in 2010 for addressing the plastic bag litter with his pyrolysis machine.  It generates 8 drums of 1,600 liters of diesel in a day out of 2 tons of plastic.

In India, the process is called thermo-catalytic degradation by a team of researchers from Centurion University of Technology and Management and the National Institute of Technology, both from eastern coast state of Odisha.

The real challenge lies not in the technology but in the individual; in creating a culture of waste separation.   That alone is a great contribution in converting the plastic problem of the world into plastic possibilities for the future.

Waste is just a matter of perspective.  As Mr. Akinori Ito said it correctly, “Plastics is the future oil field.”



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