The amount of waste that human beings generate each year is growing at a worrying rate. In this scenario, recycling is a necessary activity. However, despite the alternatives in recycling innovation, some of them are still not enough and require greater effort. Added to this is the gap between what can be recycled and what is actually recycled. Clearly, waste is an issue that must continue to be addressed in the world.
According to recent Environmental Protection Agency data, solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in our country. It is alarming to wonder how much of this waste is actually recycled, and how it could minimize the negative effects on the environment.
It is known that globally, dry recyclables such as plastics, paper, and carbon, metal, and glass account for 38% of municipal waste. The World Bank’s What a Waste 2.0 report indicates only 13.5% of these materials are recycled. Due to this reality, technology companies continue to focus on recycling innovation. They are now working to improve recycling processes and the creation of new materials to manufacture single-use and compostable products.
There is a big difference in progress between rich and poor countries. On average, emerging countries recycle only 3.7%, and some do not recycle at all. The best figures are in Europe, with the Kingdom of Denmark topping the charts because it recycles 67% of its waste. The United States only recycles 34.6% of its waste, showing that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Recycling work has basic principles to follow: collection, sorting, manual or mechanical processing, and delivery of the required quality of recycled materials to manufacturing industries. “Even in industrialized countries, manual sorting may be necessary and that can be complemented and may be replaced, by automated sorting systems using suitable technologies,” Ross Bartley, trade and environment director at the Brussels, Belgium-headquartered Bureau of International Recycling told CNBC.
Many of these procedures require materials, techniques, and equipment to be integrated into the recycling plants. The questions then revolve around the total operating costs, what is the added value of each stream. The question is when it is profitable.
Model for the study and application of technology in recycling
After visiting a materials recovery facility (MRF), Matanya Horowitz, founder and CEO of AMP Robotics, had an innovative new recycling idea. He understood that robotic technology could be improved and looked for applications to do so. After pursuing a Ph.D. in technology and projects, he learned that computer vision could improve the sorting of trash for recycling. In 2014 he founded his company AMP Robotics. Six years later Horowitz announced that he had processed more than 1 billion recyclable objects in one year.
Horowitz explained there are many types of foreign contaminants that people place in their recycling garbage cans. This factor forces you to build high-performance equipment. Horowitz has created technology that reduces the cost of recycling requirements, which aims to achieve a world with less waste. “A quote I’ve always liked is, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,’” he said about recycling innovation.
Like AMP Robotics, Footprint also uses technology to help the planet. Troy Swope’s company is working to eliminate single-use plastics by developing and manufacturing compostable packaging. These products are made from cellulose, plant-based materials such as cardboard, wood fibers, and agricultural waste. All products must be biodegradable and compostable in less than 90 days. Today, large food chains are his customers.
Observations on recycling and its real consequences
Innovation in recycling is a solution to keep moving forward with sustainability. But there are those who believe that it is necessary to enable an economy where waste does not exist. This is the case of Tom Szaky, CEO of recycling company Terracycle, and also Loop Company. On the other hand, David Allaway, a senior environmental policy analyst in Oregon, believes in quantifying the total environmental impact of a good.
Society should have basic knowledge about how these recycling processes are handled. In this way it will be possible for them to know whether or not the efforts are leading in the direction of real sustainability. It’s not just about stopping seeing plastic in the oceans. That’s why innovation in recycling helps the goal of generating a positive environmental impact in the present and in the years to come.
At eSmart Recycling, we understand that one option to check if our waste does not contaminate is to know what its final destination is. In the case of e-waste recycling, it can be measured with the reuse of the devices. That is why we recycle and donate computers to children and families in need. Thanks to the reuse of technology, the planet and the community benefit.