A team of researchers at the University of Illinois has developed a method to turn used plastic bags into diesel fuel. Currently, a reported 100 billion plastic bags are thrown away each year by Americans alone. Tens of thousands of animals – including whales, dolphins, birds, seals, and turtles, to name a few – die from encounters with plastic bags in the oceans, either by getting tangled in the plastic and drowning or by mistaking it for food and eating it. Plastic can take up to 1,000 years to break down, meaning that even after animals die from ingesting plastic and their bodies decompose, the plastic will again re-enter the environment.
Fortunately, the new process developed by University of Illinois researchers allows most of the energy and material used in the manufacturing of plastic bags to be reclaimed and used toward future energy production. According to the team of researchers, the process by which they’ve managed to turn the plastic into reusable diesel fuel, unlike other processes by which plastic has been turned into crude oil, results in a very clean form of diesel. The resulting product is so clean, in fact, that it can be added straight to regular diesel.
Of course, this process is very new, and will take some time to perfect. No one is sure exactly whether or not the process can be ramped up in scale enough to seriously affect the overall plastic problem, but if it can be fine-tuned enough to be even somewhat commercially successful, it will at least be a step in the right direction in combating the problem of plastic waste and offering recycled fuel alternatives.