Tag Archives: reclamation

There’s (black) gold in them there landfills… or maybe not

Well, perhaps. Via William Gibson and a fair bit of Googling (as the Flixxy page he linked isn’t exactly the sort of thing I’d take on trust): Akinori Ito is the CEO of Blest Inc., a Japanese company that sells a device for turning recyclable plastics into petrol. In fact, this story’s been around since 2009; here, OurWorld2.0 republishes it in response to a renewed interest courtesy a mildly-viral YouTube video:

Blest’s conversion technology is very safe because it uses a temperature controlling electric heater rather than flame. The machines are able to process polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene (numbers 2-4) but not PET bottles (number 1). The result is a crude gas that can fuel things like generators or stoves and, when refined, can even be pumped into a car, a boat or motorbike. One kilogram of plastic produces almost one liter of oil. To convert that amount takes about 1 kilowatt of electricity, which is approximately ¥20 or 20 cents’ worth.


Continually honing their technology, the company is now able to sell the machines for less than before, and Ito hopes to achieve a product “that any one can buy.” Currently the smallest version, shown in the videobrief, costs ¥950,000 (US $9,500). [Note of 30 November 2010: Blest informs us that, since we visited them last year, improvements have been made to the machine and the price is now ¥106,000 (around US$12,700) without tax.]

So far as I can tell from sitting at a keyboard, this is a real working product, though I’m rather surprised it hasn’t been bigger news. Even so, I find my cynical side wondering whether this is some sort of snake-oil gig; as pointed out in the comments in a few different places covering the story, “1kW of electricity” is a unit of power, not energy, and without knowing how long it takes to reduce that kilogram of plastic to “crude gas”, it’s difficult to get any idea of whether there’s any real gain to be had from this particular recycling process.

I rather suspect that if this process were even vaguely profitable at scale, we’d have heard a lot more about it already, and would have people knocking on our doors offering pennies for our recyclable plastics. I have no doubt the gadget works as advertised, but I’m suspicious that it would take a long long time to claw back the purchase price once you factor in the amount of electricity it consumes.

Don’t get me wrong: I want this to be everything it seems to be. I just doubt it actually is.

Swimming at the strip mall

Macro-Sea dumpster swimming poolAs regular readers will know, I get a kick out of stories about the reclamation of disused and abandoned urban spaces. BoingBoing flagged up a rather cute and apolitical example – an organisation called Macro-Sea that transforms defunct strip malls into community spaces, most notably by building public swimming pools out of industrial-sized dumpsters.

As Jocko and I continued our correspondence I quickly learned that Steve was right (not that I ever doubted him), the pool project was a small part of something much larger. Macro-Sea has been involved with a number of artists, architects and retailers across the country working to transform defunct strip malls. “By stripping and altering its [strip malls] common architectural features, adding community space and involvement, and carefully selecting and curating vendors and the space itself Macro-Sea hopes to create and promote a place for people to shop, meet, learn, and engage with one another.” Sounds like a good plan to me and I’ve seen it happen successfully before, in Sao Paulo, Brazil a few years ago.

This project is conceptually connected to Chairman Bruce’s squelettes, and to the theory of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. As cities expand, there will be more and more of these dead spaces scattered around, and I’d like to see people making imaginitive use of them rather than waiting for the authorities to scrape together the cash to build some sterile new development… or, more likely, a new mall to replace the old. [image borrowed from article at ReadyMade Magazine]