Turning plastic into oil

5th May 2017 | Recycling

At a rubbish tip about 80 miles west of London, Adrian Griffiths is testing an invention he’s confident will save the world’s oceans from choking in plastic waste. His machine, about the size of a tennis court, churns all sorts of petroleum products (cling wrap, polyester clothing, carpets, electronics) back into oil. It takes less than a second and the resulting fuel, called Plaxx, can be used to make plastic again or power ship engines.

“We want to change the history of plastic in the world,” said Griffiths, the chief executive officer of Recycling Technologies in Swindon. 2.4 tons of plastic waste can be transformed in this way daily as part of a pilot project.

Turning plastic into oil

For financial backers including the UK government and more than 100 private investors, the technology could mark a breakthrough in how plastic is managed globally. The machine uses a feedstock recycling technique developed at Warwick University to process plastic waste without the need for sorting, a major hurdle that has prevented economically viable recycling on a grand scale.

Griffiths’ project is unique in that it doesn’t target a specific type of plastic, but rather seeks to find a solution for the so-called plastic soup inundating the world’s water bodies. By 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans, according to a study presented at this year’s World Economic Forum by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

“It could be a real game changer,” said Patricia Vangheluwe, consumer and environmental affairs director at PlasticsEurope. This is a trade association representing more than 100 polymer producers, including BASF SE and Dow Chemical Co. “This is a great way of getting plastics that you would not be able to recycle with current technology, or do that in an economic way, back into the circular economy.”

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