A man’s journey to reduce plastic waste by turning it into diesel

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In a small workshop in Tbong Khmum province made out of corrugated iron sheets, a handful of people work to give unwanted plastic a new life. Photo supplied

In a small workshop made out of corrugated iron sheets, a handful of people work to give unwanted plastic a new life. The plant, located in Tbong Khmum province’s Tbong Khmum district, is the brainchild of Khun Sive, an NGO worker with a fascination for green energy.

Due to its convenience, there is a strong tendency to overuse plastic. In places like Cambodia, plastic products pile up on the side of the road, posing a risk to the environment and people’s health.

The sight of heaps of plastic waste on the side of the road is what motivated Sive to start his workshop.

“I was inspired to produce diesel from plastic waste after reading about success stories for green energy production in Japan,” says Sive, who hails from Chikor commune.

Sive was encouraged by the organisation he was working for at the time to start researching about recycling plastic.

“Then I decided to use YouTube to find out how to produce diesel from plastic waste,” says the 41-year-old man, who dropped out from school at Grade 4 due to family problems.

Sive spent over a year learning and experimenting to refine the process, and opened his workshop in August 2018.

He says the system to produce diesel from plastic waste can be broken down into three basic steps – chemical decomposition, filtration, and purification.

In his factory, plastic bottles are fed to a reactor and heated. When the plastic evaporates, the condensed vapour is collected and put through a purification process to turn it into diesel.

Sive’s story has captured the hearts of many in a nation where local inventions rarely fail to make headlines and go viral on social media.

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Sive says 30kg of plastic can be converted into approximately 10 litres of recycled diesel, which he says is more powerful than conventional diesel. Photo supplied

He explains that there are more than 70 categories of plastic based on their chemical components. Seven of these are very harmful to the environment. Of these, six can be converted into diesel.

“Drinking water bottles, cooking oil containers, soap bottles, bottle caps, take-away cups, and styrofoam packages is what we most commonly use at the factory,” he says.

Sive says 30kg of plastic can be converted into approximately 10 litres of recycled diesel, which he says is more powerful than conventional diesel.

“The standard diesel has a density of about 0.832kg per litre compared to the recycled plastic diesel here which has a density of 0.775kg per litre. It has powerful combustion, but also generates higher emissions,” he says.

The process of recycling plastic waste to produce diesel, he says, is risky and can even be fatal as it involves very high temperatures. Hence, the reactor could explode if something were to go wrong.

Sive’s humble workshop has produced around 1,000 litres of diesel since opening two years ago.

“Due to the limitations of this facility, we have only been able to produce a small amount of diesel,” he says, adding that the output is enough to cover the needs of the NGO where he works – Organisation for Basic Training.

“We are only producing about 10 litres of diesel per day, but I have plans to increase our daily output to 150 litres,” says Sive, who works as an assistant to the NGO’s director.

Some of the diesel produced at the facility is also sold to people in Chikor commune.

“We have asked for a $100,000 grant from a donor in France. If we get it, we will be able to upgrade our facilities, and we will start producing 150 litres of diesel a day,” he says.

But a lack of funds is not the only problem hindering his operation. Sive says one of the biggest challenges he faces is minimising the environmental footprint of his product.

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Sive says 30kg of plastic can be converted into approximately 10 litres of recycled diesel, which he says is more powerful than conventional diesel. Photo supplied

“My research shows that recycled plastic diesel actually creates more air pollution than regular diesel,” Sive admits, noting that the main advantage is that they are helping to reduce plastic waste.

“At the very least, we are taking unwanted plastic out of our ecosystem and turning it into something useful.”

To further minimise the impact on the environment, the leftover plastic waste from creating diesel is used to make bricks.

“To create our eco-bricks, we mix 3kg of sand and 1kg of plastic. I’ve been working on this project for a few years and is now a reality,” he says.

Sive showcased his products during the First National Ecotourism Forum, held in November last year.

“I also sent some of my diesel to Phnom Penh Municipal Hall last week so that they can use it and see its applications.”

Sive is looking for investors for his project to produce diesel and eco-bricks. If you are interested, Sive can be reached at 011387309.