Japanese industrial machinery maker Ebara will commercialize a technology that can efficiently recycle plastic without going through the cumbersome and costly process of separating trash, starting as early as 2030.
Currently, garbage mixed with plastics is often incinerated. To recycle plastics as a resource, they must be separated from other types of garbage like food scraps. Plastic bottles are often collected separately but cannot be recycled if they are noticeably soiled.
With the technology Ebara is developing, garbage including plastics is thrown into a furnace lined with sand and other materials that are mixed with the garbage using air or steam at temperatures of 400 to 950 degrees Celsius. This process breaks down the garbage to the molecular level and gasifies its components.
By adjusting the temperature to trigger various chemical reactions, gaseous components such as ethylene and propylene — used to make a wide range of plastics for cars, home appliances and daily necessities — can be extracted.
Ebara recently advanced significantly toward the development of the technology, which can process miscellaneous garbage including wood, tires, sludge, food scraps, paper and clothing. This enables plastic to be recycled without detailed sorting, as is currently required in facilities that recycle plastics collected from garbage.
To apply this technology, Ebara plans to process 100,000 tons of garbage per year. The aim is to improve the technology to a level that chemical components, which can make 30-40% of the total amount of waste input, can be extracted.
The company wants to collaborate with chemical manufacturers to convert the extracted gas into chemicals. It also hopes to keep installation costs at the same level as that of conventional waste treatment facilities in municipalities, which is in the range of JPY 20 billion (USD 138 million) to 40 billion (USD 282 million).
Until 2019, only 10% of the world’s plastic products had been recycled, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. European and American companies have begun full-scale efforts to recycle plastic into raw materials. Japanese companies like Ebara are hoping to capture more business opportunities overseas with their advanced technologies.