By Sabri Ben-Achour
A pile of pulverized plastic flower pots sits on the pavement by the Envion test reactor in Derwood, Maryland.
"In a matter of minutes, you'll see it go through the reactor," says Michael Han, Envion's CEO.
"This is the heating element that breaks down, melts down the plastic."
Han's emission-free reactor converts plastic into oil - jet fuel, gasoline, kerosene. He says it could reduce dependence on foreign oil and keep plastic out of landfills.
Richard Wool is a professor of chemistry at the University of Delaware. He says even if all the world's plastic was converted to fuel, it wouldn't make a dent in the need for oil. Plus, he says, fuel may not be the most efficient use for plastic.
"The best thing you can do for plastics is primary and secondary recycling"
i.e. reusing a milk bottle or using it to make more milk bottles. Making fuel - especially lower cost fuel - may not be economical especially if you have to buy and transport the plastic. But, Wool says, "if this person is getting the material for free and the conversion cost is not too high, it could be a very useful way to eliminate a huge waste stream."
CEO Han says counties are spending money on plastic disposal anyway, and he claims his process is cheaper.