Recycle Plastic Bags into Oil with New Machine

A Japanese inventor learned how to recycle plastic bags into oil with a new machine.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

A Japanese inventor learned how to recycle plastic bags into oil with a new machine. Image Unsplash.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A Japanese inventor learned how to recycle plastic bags into oil with a new machine.

A Japanese inventor has designed an innovative machine that can recycle plastic bags into oil. 70-year old Akinori Ito created the recycling device to process hard-to-recycle plastic waste into usable fuel.

Ito’s machine shreds plastic bags into flakes and then melts them at high heat, producing an oil liquid similar to light crude. The unconventional recycling method aims to reduce waste while generating income for local communities. The machines come in a variety of sizes, from desktop-sized to community-scale.

“I don’t want this equipment to just be used by major companies. I want it to be used in small towns and villages,” Ito shared.

His compact recycling unit measures around 4.5 meters long by 2.5 meters wide with various control stations. Up to 1 kilogram of plastic bags can be loaded into the shredder per hour.

The shredded plastic is then fed into a hot furnace, melting the material at temperatures up to 430 degrees Celsius. The intense heat decomposes the hydrocarbons and will recycle plastic bags into oil.

Different grades of fuel oil can be created depending on the temperature and components used. Higher heat produces lighter oils akin to diesel or gasoline. The oil can then be sold to buyers as recycled petroleum products.

Japan generates over 9 million tons of plastic waste annually but recycles only 22% of it, government statistics report. The country imports much of its energy and previously recycled most plastics into lower-grade uses like concrete filler. The ability to recycle plastic bags into oil is something that Japan needs.

Motivated by both the waste and energy issues, Ito spent over 20 years perfecting a system to upcycle plastics into usable crude oil.

After testing various methods, the retired electronics engineer pioneered the pressurized hot furnace technique to recycle plastic bags into oil.

See also: New Plastic Recycling Rules in Australia.

“I didn’t expect oil made from plastic bags would be such good quality when I first produced it,” shared Ito. “The quality of oil is high enough to be sold to consumers.”

By selling the oil produced, local groups and municipalities can fund new recycling efforts in a self-sustaining loop. “I hope more people will use the machine in their community,” said Ito.

Several Japanese municipalities have already installed Ito’s invention to process hard-to-recycle plastic films, bags, wrappings, and other waste into oil.

The city of Akita estimates they can convert several hundred kilograms of plastic waste per day into nearly $500 worth of oil. Some groups report producing over 80 liters of oil daily.

But challenges remain in scaling up the niche recycling concept. Collecting sufficient plastic volumes is difficult in smaller towns. Removing ink and labels from plastic bags is an added step. The systems also require maintenance of technical equipment.

Still, supporters believe Ito’s invention provides an important outlet to reduce unrecyclable plastics piling up in Japan and other countries. His machine offers a rare solution for polyethylene films that lack recycling markets globally.

If expanded, systems that recycle plastic bags into oil could reduce environmental and crude oil imports for countries while generating income. With further development, experts envision entire localized supply chains optimizing the plastic-to-fuel concept.

For his innovation, Ito was awarded the Medal of Honor from Japan’s Ministry of Environment in 2018. His persistence in creating a real-world solution also highlights the power of grassroots initiatives to spur change.

Said Ito: “I don’t want my technology to end up sitting on the shelf. I want it to be used practically to help communities.”

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6 comments

  1. This is nothing new. Decades ago there was an article in the old Discover magazine where an inventor built a machine that would convert ANY organic waste into useful oil. The original intention was to help a turkey plant get rid of all the offal they were producing instead of land filling it. It was producing several barrels of oil daily. According to the article it could work on anything organic including plastics.

    1. Hi Craig, Grant here. I have often thought that eventually the value of hydrocarbon based materials would reach the point that they would be looked at as a resource. That we may someday start mining landfills for the plastic and rubber they contain. About ten years ago at the World Futures Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, I recall seeing a technology demonstrated that used a distillation process to accurately capture different elements. The material would be heated to specific temperatures where an element or compound would evaporate and then be captured in its gaseous form. When it cooled, it would be concentrated. They could do this with most of the components of rubber and plastic. The only downside was the energy cost of the heat. Perhaps with advances in renewable energy and the resulting lower cost, this technology or something like it will become mainstream like solar powered desalination or hydrogen electrolysers. I would be very interested to read about the technology you describe, if you can find any info, please email me at grant@happyeconews.com.

  2. Interesting article. It certainly seems like game changing technology. I did a little digging. The company ran out of cash in 2009 and in 2015 was sold to a publicly traded Canadian oil fields reclamation company, which was subsequently sold to Ambipar Group in Calgary, also a reclamation and response company. I do not see any evidence of further development of the tech. Hopefully someone ressurects it soon as the original patents must be long expired now.

  3. Hi Grant,
    Search Licella Cat-Htr( or just ‘Licella’) for a company successfully bringing a similar technology to commercial deployment, with the added leverage that supercritical water brings.

    Also search ‘hydrothermal liquefaction’ for a deeper dive into the current and ongoing research and commercialization of the technology, often not surprisingly centering on the processing of sewage and liquid waste.

    In the field of more traditional pyrolysis, look up ‘thermo-catalytic’ reforming and the European backed ‘tosynfuel’ project(tosynfuel.eu) for a technological approach to creating a low acid, low moisture bio-oil more suitable than traditional approaches for immediate upgrading in a refinery – or even direct distillation, if you can believe it, just search ‘bio-oil distilled gasoline’.

    You also might find the fully commercialized production of HVO fuels – the conversion of vegetable oil to drop in replacements for petroleum fuels via exposure to hydrogen and and a catalyst under heat and pressure – to be of interest( the ‘HVO’ standing for ‘hydrogeninated vegetable oil’).

    Peace

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