Cape Town – A method to convert used plastic into oil is to be tested with the support of the City of Cape Town.

Supporters punt it as the answer to the world’s energy crisis, but environmentalists say they are merely painting a rosy picture for what is a “dirty” product.

Authorities from the City of Cape Town shook hands this week with Japanese representatives on the development and testing of a plastics-to-oil conversion facility.

The Japanese government has provided a grant of R10-million to “foster technology exports from the Asian powerhouse”, according to the city.

Representatives of the Japan International Co-operation Agency and companies CFP and Kanemiya and the city have signed a memorandum of understanding for the pilot survey.

The plant will be based at the Kraaifontein Integrated Waste Management Facility.

It is considered a World Design Capital 2014 project.

The city claims it will stimulate the economy and “contribute to a sustainable society, reducing the environmental impacts of plastic”.

It is expected that 500kg of plastic would be converted into about 500 litres of heating oil a day.

The oil is to be used to power a generator, and the portion that is not used is to be available for sale as heating oil in industrial processes.

The technology to be used is known as pyrolysis.

The pilot project is to run for six months, after which it is to be assessed and decisions made on its sustainability and affordability.

Once the test phase has been completed, the plant will become the property of the city.

This week mayor Patricia de Lille told the Japanese the city would help with the exploration of potential environmentally friendly solutions.

She warned that, while not anticipating outcomes for the project, the city was “taking a chance with the experiment and giving it the space to succeed or fail, in the best tradition of trying new things”.

Muna Lakhani, founder and national co-ordinator of the Institute for Zero Waste in Africa, said the facility would generate a demand for waste, increasing fossil fuels, without getting back energy used in making the waste product.

He said the emissions would be toxic. Also, the process would generate highly hazardous waste and could not be considered sustainable or environmentally friendly “in any way”.

Glenn Ashton, director at the Ekogaia – experts in non-harmful alternative energy – said: “If plastic waste was not so abundant and undervalued it would not be viable to turn it into oil, as it would simply be too expensive.”