Philippe Dupuy from the Lismore Environment Centre thinks there is a role for pyrolysis technology in dealing with the global plastic waste dilemma, with new technology making it possible to turn plastic waste into a useful resource.
Mr Dupuy told The Echo, ‘There are machines that use pyrolysis, which is a process of heating something without oxygen. The end result for plastic when it’s heated over 400 degrees is the molecules break down and separate into the original components, which is oil basically, and gas.
‘So the machine captures the oil and the gas; the gas is used to keep the heat going in the pyrolysis process, and the oil can be filtered into diesel which burns better and is less polluting than ordinary diesel, kerosene or even petrol.’
Mr Dupuy said that by converting plastic into valuable resources it avoids plastic products ending up in incinerators, which pollutes the air, or damaging the ocean, or being buried in landfill, ‘which is a total disaster’.
‘The thing to remember with plastic is we’ve got this process of out of mind, out of sight, but this doesn’t work with plastic because it breaks down into micro and then nano particles,’ said Philippe Dupuy. ‘And that gets into the food chain and is then absorbed by other creatures, including ourselves.
‘We’re consuming it. Some people say we consume a credit card’s worth of plastic monthly. It’s shocking, and there’s also the wildlife that gets affected by it,’ he said.
‘We’ve got whales dying on our beaches with guts full of plastic. The same with turtles and fish and also the plankton, which ingests those nanoparticles as well.
‘It’s a crisis actually, like climate change, and if we address it we’ll have less pollution too. People are dying from cancer and other diseases caused in large part by pollutants in the environment.’
Big and small pyrolysis machines
Mr Dupuy explained that industrial size plastic conversion machines are already being used overseas. ‘Yes, China were using pyrolysis machines as one of their processes with our recycling. There are machines so big they can handle ten tonnes of plastics a day. That’s quite significant.’
Although these machines are in operation in places including China, Japan and the Congo, there are none in Australia in the moment.
In terms of introducing the technology to the Northern Rivers, Mr Dupuy said his focus is on much smaller machines which are available and affordable.
‘That’s right, and that’s what i want to concentrate on,’ he said. ‘I think I can raise the money to get one. It’s about $17,000.
‘It can only handle about two kilos of plastic at a time, but that’s substantial over time. That includes plastic bags and all sorts of stuff.
‘What I envision is we buy machines like that, then go in connection with schools so we can demonstrate how plastic can be turned into a valuable resource,’ he said. ‘That gets in the mind of children that plastic is not waste, it’s a resource, so you pick it up, not chuck it!’
Spreading the word
Mr Dupuy’s plan is to initiate the pyrolysis project through the Lismore Environment Centre, then form a small company, then go looking for local councils and people in the education sector to spread the word, as well as doing public demonstrations.
So far he’s has floated the idea to Lismore City Council, and to educators, who are keen to learn more. ‘There are people who are interested in putting some money in it. I’m certainly going to do it,’ he said.
Down the track, Mr Dupuy says there’s the potential to install a larger machine in the area, which could handle things like tyres, and bulk waste.
‘Some of these machines are so big that they have a big tank where a tanker truck could actually pick up the fuel and take it away to be sold or used,’ he explained.
‘The basic unfiltered oil from the large machines can be used in factories where their machines are tougher, but for use in cars and so on it needs to be refined.
‘But this small machine, amazingly enough, you get to select what you want, oil or kerosene. Different levels of heat create different products,’ he said.
Education to avoid contamination
Philippe Dupuy told The Echo, ‘When I came across this I thought, what are we doing? We should be using machines like that and educating people. At the moment we still have people putting rubbish in the bins that is contaminated. That is one reason why China refused to take our rubbish any more, because it’s so contaminated.
‘The big thing for me is to raise the level of awareness in society about plastics. It’s not being taken care of with the processes we have, it’s unmanageable as it is, so we need to raise awareness for people to get more involved,’ he said.
‘In the future we could have these machines in small communities. If there were 200-300 people a machine like that would process their plastic waste.’
Mr Dupuy said the potential of pyrolysis machines was waiting to be tapped. ‘While many issues are divisive, this one isn’t! When you talk about plastic rubbish, everyone is traumatised by it. I refuse to buy strawberries in those little containers, because you never really know what happens to it. So there’s a real need for technology like this.’
Check out this video of plastic conversion via pyrolysis in action: