Move Over Doc Brown: Man invents machine that turns plastic back into oil!

As people debate rising gas prices and the recent approval of more off-shore drilling (favored by many as an alternative to importing internationally mined oil from, say, Libya), they forget one small detail: No matter where we drill, or how often, feeding the  Hungry Hungry Hippo that is civilization is inevitably going to use up a finite source. Our hunger, that is, is greater than our fix. 

We were born into a cyclical earth system and imposed a finite method over it—one of the great inequalities bemoaned in every sustainability lecture. To be sustainable is to be able to repeat an action indefinitely. You don't need me to tell you our current system works in a completely opposite way. That means we either have to change our way of doing things, or face the fact that it's a dead-end road.

Enter Akinori Ito, CEO of the Blest Corporation, who realized all this and came up with a very practical solution.

Ito devised a machine that actually converts plastic back into oil. The contraption utilizes a temperature-controlling electric heater that processes polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene. The result is a crude gas that can fuel things like generators or stoves and, when refined, can even be pumped into a car, boat or motorcycle. Here's a video clip about the process:

One kilogram of plastic produces almost one liter of oil in Ito's invention. To convert that amount takes about 1 kwh of electricity, which is roughly 20 cents’ worth. Blest makes the machines in various sizes for residential and industrial use. The smallest machine, which you can operate in your home, will run you just under $13,000.

Of course, what humans need to figure out (and soon!) is a way to live sustainably in a system of invention that is 100 percent renewable. That means no more oil dependency, period. Harnessing the sun, wind, or even the tides could work; and is even something attainable within 40 years, according to one Stanford researcher. Ito's idea is at least a giant step in the right direction, and a welcome addition to the world of reusing, reducing, and recycling.

To see sample machines and learn more about the Blest Corporation, click here.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.