Video: Machine Turns Plastic Back Into Oil

A new machine goes beyond traditional recycling and turns plastic waste—from bags and bottles to caps and containers—back into oil.

An albatross that mistook plastic for food. Photo: Algalita Marine Research Foundation
We’ve got a plastic problem. Producing the stuff requires an enormous amount of energy—four percent of the US’s energy consumption is used to make it. Once it’s produced, it has staying power, with the average plastic bottle sticking around for 450 years before it decomposes. Tons of the stuff is floating in the Pacific garbage patch, threatening sea birds and marine creatures that mistake it for food. A similar, smaller confluence of plastic debris has been found in the Atlantic. And in many places, unfortunately, there's no infrastructure in place to recycle plast.
Instead of chucking used plastic in the trash, what if we could turn it back into oil? Akinori Ito figured out how to do just that. Ito is CEO of Blest, a Japanese company that built a small, easy to use machine that converts several types of plastic (numbers 2-4) into crude gas, that can then be refined. Check out the video below from the United Nations University about Ito’s remarkable machine. 


This machine, of course, isn’t a silver bullet. It’s vital that we recycle whenever possible (visit to find a recycling center near you) and cut down on how much we use. Growing efforts by municipalities in the U.S. and across the globe to ban plastic bags in stores, for instance, is a great start to cutting down on the use of the stuff in the first place.

All the waste has inspired some artists like Joshua Allen Harris, who has created street art monsters out of plastic bags.

Did you know that plastic made up 1% of our municipal solid waste in 1960, and 12% in 2008? Or that a 100-watt bulb can burn for 11 hours from the energy saved by recycling a one-gallong plastic milk container? For more plastic factoids, check out the October-November issue.