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Plastic Waste Transformed Into Source of Oil, Making Money, Aiding Environment

Tons of plastic waste are swamping Asia so quickly that many landfills could be overrun soon. Entrepreneurs and governments in Asia are willing to put money on technology that converts plastic back to its main component - oil - to save the environment.

In the North Pacific Ocean lies a large pool of plastic waste half the size of Texas, weighing 300 million tons, and a massive threat to marine life. The waste was transported by ocean currents from North Asia and North America.

Doug Woodring leads Project Kaisei, a small group of conservationists and entrepreneurs from Hong Kong, London and California.

The United Nations recently recognized the group for its studies on how to capture the plastic in the Pacific and turn it into diesel fuel.

But recycling plastic is only the beginning of the project's mission. After all, scientists say 80 percent of all debris in the ocean comes from land.

"A lot of countries don't have a lot of landfill space [so they] either burn the trash or throw it into the water," Woodring said.

Landfills all over the world, like this one in Thailand's Rayong municipality, are running out of space. Expanding urban areas can not accommodate new landfills.

Santivipa Phanichkul, an environmentalist and executive of Single Point Energy and Environment, has a solution for Rayong. "The technology will cut the molecule into a chain of oil and gas. It transforms the plastic back into its original form," Phanichkul said.

Up to 10 tons of plastic waste, such as shopping bags and parts of appliances, toys, computers and office equipment, can be fed into this machine in a day. It produces up to 28 barrels of liquid fuel a day that is sold to oil refineries.

"It is my intention to put the idea [forward]; to make the government adopt the policy in turning plastic waste into energy because Thailand has so much of plastic waste - approximately a minimum of 2.5 million tons per year," Panichkul states.

The machine costs nearly $2 million.

"You can have it paid back within five years," Panichkul adds, "You get money and you get a better environment, make it as simple as that."

Despite the cost, two other towns in Thailand are adopting the technology - a sign that governments will pay for a cleaner environment.