11 Advanced Recycling Technologies to Efficiently Recycle Global Waste

keyKey Takeaways:
  • Understand basics about recycling technology and what steps are followed in recycling process.
  • Growing hazardous impact on the environment and the consistent goals to scale up the recycling rates, created the need to adopt recycling technologies.
  • Advancements in recycling technologies have led to innovative recycling solutions.
  • Real-life scenarios involving the implications of recycling technologies.

“Someone has rightly said that technology exceeds human capabilities”. 

Technological advancements unlock the hidden potential of the existing industrial practices, helping businesses reach a point where humans easily cannot. 

Similar is the case with recycling technologies. With the growing environmental concerns and the increasing awareness towards more sustainable practices, technological evolution has become a must in carrying out recycling practices.

The recycling rate in the US has been consistently low. As per the reports of municipal solid waste material, recycling rates worldwide, in countries like Germany, Slovenia, and other European countries have excelled leaving the US at just a 32% recycling rate (including composting).

The figure itself says why we need to boost recycling efficiency and utilize technological advancements tools in the modern era. There are multiple recycling technologies available in the market, which automates the recycling process. If you are interested in learning more about these technologies and how they can be incorporated into a comprehensive business plan for recycling companies, continue reading with us.

About Emerging Recycling Technology

Recycling technology is the process of transforming discarded solid waste material into new sellable products. Recycling technology harnesses the power of science to convert plastic waste into new products that can be recycled again and again. 

Recycling technologies dedicatedly focus on converting waste or discarded materials into useful resources with an aim to exploit the extractions from nature at the maximum. 

Any of recycling technology you choose, it follows the similar 3-step process, as stated below:

    • A collection of recyclable materials 
    • Manufacturing or reprocessing this material into new products
    • Then, the purchase/sale of these products

The Paragus Strategic I.T. in Hadley, conducted the Town by Town, Technology Recycling Drive near the arrival of earth day, to boost sustainable practices. 

Here, old tech gadgets were taken off to prepare them for re-use and to make sure they’re properly disposed of.

Why Major Businesses & Startups are Moving Towards Recycling Technologies?

Recycling technologies are the advanced practical solution to overcome the challenges faced in traditional recycling practices. It precisely manages the waste and works towards conserving natural resources.

To limit the amount of waste going into landfills, effective recycling technologies are adopted that stop the waste ending up going into landfills, incinerators, and other disposal sites, which can adversely impact the environment and human health. 

As per the reports, out of 292.4 million tons of waste the U.S. produces, more than 50%, i.e. 146 million goes into the landfills each year, with the average American tossing 4.5 pounds of trash per day. 

Hence, executing advanced recycling technologies is essential to scale the recycling rate. Riding through the recycling technological advancements not just boosts sustainable practices and a circular economy but also creates new employment opportunities boosting the economic growth of the country. 

Do You Know?
JD Ambati, founder and CEO of EverestLabs has carried out an AI-embedded recycling operation names RecycleOS and is now publicly talking about the importance of funding in tech-based recycling advancements for unleashing a sustainable future. 

It is a proven fact that by embracing the latest recycling trends and utilizing advanced recycling technologies, businesses can reduce their environmental impact and move towards a sustainable tomorrow.

Also read: Proven marketing strategies for recycling business

11 Recycling Technologies to Build a Sustainable Future

1. Chemical recycling

Chemical recycling is nothing but the process of breaking down hard plastic into its original form which is typically known as virgin-equivalent plastic. Chemical recycling typically includes a range of emerging technologies in the waste management industry that turns hard plastic into recycled one (secondary raw materials) that was previously difficult or uneconomic to recycle mechanically. 

Chemical recycling

The demand for secondary raw materials is increasing day by day with the shift towards more sustainable goals, developments in chemical recycling processes, and customer-preference methods. It should be noted that the chemical recycling-based secondary material replaces virgin raw material from the manufacturing supply chain and reduces carbon emissions. 

Here’s how chemical recycling turns plastic waste into its original components:

    • Conversion: The closed-loop recycling process also popularly termed as the circular economy starts with the conversion process. Here the long-chain hydrocarbon molecules called polymers can be broken down in mixed or sorted plastics into smaller molecules through the processes called pyrolysis or gasification. These short molecules can be used as feedstock for new chemical reactions to produce new recycled plastics and other chemicals. 
    • Decomposition: Next comes decomposition where the polymers are broken down into monomers to produce new plastics. This process is carried out with heat or chemicals using solvents to break polymers into monomers. 
    • Purification: This is the last step. Unlike other chemical recycling processes here the polymer is not broken down or modified. Instead, solvents are used to separate polymers from additives or contaminants. 

2. Mechanical recycling

Mechanical recycling is referred to as a chemical recycling process that converts plastic waste into secondary plastic material without changing the original chemical structure of a material.

The mechanical recycling process is suitable for all types of thermoplastics and it is the most familiar approach used for recycling plastics.  

Mechanical recycling involves certain processing steps which are to be followed. Those steps are listed below:

    • Collection: The end-of-life plastic products are collected from separate and mixed waste streams.
    • First sorting: Once the collected plastic waste arrives at the recycling plant, it is sorted. It may happen that some sorting was already done at the collection stage. Yet if it needs further sorting in terms of color or thickness, it can be done at this stage.
    • Shredding: The collected and sorted plastic waste is then shredded into smaller pieces before they can be reused. 
    • Washing: In this process, the shredded plastic waste is cleaned to remove any dust or dirt ensuring that the plastic is clean before boarding on to the next stage. The dust and dirt typically involve tracts of food, drinks, or labels.
    • Second sorting: Plastics are once again sorted and controlled before they are sent to extrusion.
    • Extrusion: Under extrusion, plastic flakes are finally converted into homogeneous pellets that are ready to use in the manufacturing of new products.

Have a look at the practical implications of the mechanical recycling process.

3. Dissolution recycling 

The recycling process where the polymers are separated from the plastic waste in a  way that polymers come back to their original chemical structural property is dissolution recycling. 

Under dissolution recycling, polymers present in the plastic waste are dissolved in the solvents so that they can get separated coming back in their purest form. The industrial examples where the dissolution recycling process has been applied are

    • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
    • Polystyrene (PS)
    • Nylon (PA)
    • Polypropylene (PP)

These polymers are broken down into individual high-quality monomers. These monomers are then used to produce new polymers with the same properties as the original materials. This ultimately increases the recycling rates and reduces the need for plastic use in the environment.

4. Organic recycling

Under organic recycling, biodegradable plastics undergo controlled microbiological treatment under aerobic conditions (composting) or anaerobic conditions (bio gasification).  

The organic recycling process is applicable to specific categories of polymers that can be converted into stabilized organic residues, carbon dioxide, methane, and water under the actions of microorganisms. 

When organic waste is in the recycling phase under the aerobic condition, it results in composting, which mainly goes back to the soil and is used as biological fertilizer to help grow new crops. On the contrary, when recycling is done under anaerobic conditions, it is used mostly as energy. 

5. Monomer recycling

Monomer recycling or depolymerization is a type of recycling method where the long polymer molecules within the plastic crack into monomer building blocks. These monomer building blocks are used to create virgin plastic materials with identical properties. Because of monomer recycling, chemical components of the plastic get reversed, making it a more stable recycled plastic. 

Cleaning hands over recycling technologies will not be enough. Get acknowledged by the best possible ways to maximize your recycling business profit margin and stay on top among the existing competitors in the recycling industry.

6. Recycling waste internet

The recycling industry is adapting to the technological evolution and is going hand-in-hand with it. 

Recyclers are believing the fact that with the advent of recycling technologies, IoT-enabled waste management techniques can help them beat the inefficiencies in their waste logistic business.

    • Fill-level sensors, smart bins, and material quality assessing sensors. Fill-level sensors monitor the garbage containers and update the waste-collecting teams for pickups at accurate time intervals. 
    • The second contributing IoT-based tech that is in practical implementation by the waste management businesses and recyclers is “radio-frequency identification technology” allowing the haulers to track assets in the field. It aids the recyclers in tracking, work order management, and repairs of waste containers. 

7. Recycling robots 

Mechanical recycling is a highly focused and familiar approach to getting the originality of plastic materials back. However, businesses were facing hurdles in the form of waste contamination and a lack of workforce while undergoing mechanical recycling operations. And to cope with this, startups developed recycling robots to automate and augment sorting lines with AI-powered sorting systems. 

The involvement of recycling robots overcomes human limitations and resultantly, trash-picking speed gets boosted, errors (especially while sorting waste) get minimized, and picking efficiency improvises. The materials recovery facilities (MRFs) get leverage over reducing their operational expenses, optimizing waste stream quality control, and increasing visibility into waste flows.

8. Waste heat valorization

It is the process of converting waste into useful products or energy sources, without losing the quality of materia. In this process, solid and organic waste is transformed into energy sources or chemicals, rather than disposing of them in landfills or incinerators.

Startups use waste valorization by offering anaerobic digesters that use bacteria to treat organic waste and generate biogas from them. Moreover, the rising demand for clean energy generates higher interest in waste-to-energy solutions.

9. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in recycling practices, not limits human intelligence but makes it more creative in a way that the recycling efficiencies and effectiveness get boosted. Material analysis, sorting, and picking up trash have been automated, securing worker’s health by reducing direct human exposure to hazardous waste streams. 

Integrating automated workflows enabled startups to utilize machine learning and computer vision techniques in order to recognize patterns, understand vital information, make accurate predictions, and perform complex tasks with minimal human interference.

This resulted in significant improvements over various recycling business operations, allowing startups to increase productivity, reduce costs, and scale their operations more quickly.

10. Material life cycle extension

Adopting recycling technologies plays a significant role in extending the material life cycle. The startups developed automated recycling solutions that are based on recycling technology trends like depolymerization, chemical treatment, and other tech-driven mechanical recycling.

This resulted in the production of high-quality secondary materials and extended materials’ life, reducing dependency on the use of virgin raw materials.

11. Other technological solutions

Similar to this other recycling technologies have been adopted or planned to be implemented practically, streamlining the waste management operations. 

One of them is integrating the waste management and recycling business with automated route optimization software. It is one of the most crucial integrations. 

Unlike traditional methods, this will help you get over the time taking manual ways of planning waste collection routes. Also switching over to most cloud-based recycling waste management software will help you cover maximum stops in a given deadline. 

That’s not the end of the list, it can help you with:

    • Plan, schedule and optimize waste collection routes efficiently within the blink of an eye.
    • Assign multiple drivers, swap or reverse routes between them as per your time convenience and preferences. 
    • Even the time spent by your drivers on roads gets reduced drastically.
    • Re-assigning the pickup routes to other drivers in case of unavailability.
    • Generate reports of your waste collection pickups, daily pickups, and team performance on a day-to-day basis.  
    • Get instant proof of service (via e-sign and images) to ensure that the service has been rendered at the designated stops. 

This is what happens when you integrate advanced recycling technologies into recycling processes. Right, you can optimize waste collection methods and the operational efficiency of the business as well.

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Some Real-life Implications of Recycling Technologies

1. Automated fill-level sensors: Bintel

Swedish-based startup company develops fill-level sensors that can be used for trash bins, waste containers, and at recycling stations. These automated fill-level sensors developed by Bintel utilize low-power wide area networking (LoRaWAN) or narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) based on range requirements. Let’s check out how it helps the waste collection community. 

    • Increases visibility over the waste container status without incurring massive capital expenses
    • The sensors also update recyclers on the container’s emptying frequency and waste logistics
    • It is robust and reliable and suits all environments and applications
    • Can get easily installed in your existing vessels
    • Optimize the capacity of each fraction according to the recycling station’s requirements. 

2. Chemical recycling of post-consumer textile waste: Refiberd

The US-based startup developed Refiberd, which specializes in the process of undergoing the chemical recycling of post-consumer textile waste. 

Refiberd combines artificial intelligence, robotics, and its self-owned green chemical recycling technology to convert used and discarded textiles into new, reusable threads.

After converting post-consumed textile waste into reusable threads, it offers recycled polyester and cellulose thread kits enabling the diversion of a significant amount of textile waste that goes into landfills. With this, the need for virgin material in the textile manufacturing industry gets declined.

3. Waste heat valorization: SBS Thermal Technologies

The Spanish-based company has developed the patented waste heat valorization technology. It uses high-efficiency contact technology (HECO) to achieve optimized conditions for mass and energy transfer for increased waste conversion efficiency. 

SBS thermal technologies promise to transform your waste into clean energy, biofuel, and revalorized raw material promptly, saving energy up to 40%. They focus on the main environmental goal of enriching and expanding the waste recycling and recovery processes. Their main task is to valorize the recyclable waste and give it a new use.

4. Feedstock recycling: Neste

Neste, a refining plant in Porvoo, Finland successfully completed its first processing run in the year 2020. They processed 3000 tons of liquified plastic waste to get the end product, called Neste RE.  It is basically a raw material for the production of new plastic and a replacement for fossil-based material. 

Their goal is the transition from individual runs to continuous production aiming to build a capacity of 4,00,000 tons/year of liquefied waste plastics.

FAQs

Advanced recycling is a technological process of transforming solid plastic waste into a gaseous or liquid raw material that can be reused to make brand-new plastic for use probably in any plastic product or packaging.

Pyrolysis is also popularly known as the “plastic-to-fuel” chemical recycling process. It typically involves heating the plastic waste at high temperatures, which is probably around (300-900°C) in the absence of oxygen. This chemical process is done to convert plastic waste into synthetic crude oil that can be refined into diesel fuel, gasoline, heating oil, or waxes.

It is process to convert the plastic waste into synthesis gas, or “syngas”. Under gasification as well, plastic waste is heated at a high temperature that typically involves around 500-1300°C in the low-oxygen environment.

Syngas is a fuel mixture that mainly contains hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can be either combusted for electric power generation or converted into other fuels or chemicals, such as ethanol and methanol.

The technologies involved in the recycling process are as below:

    • Chemical recycling
    • Mechanical recycling
    • Thermal recycling
    • Biological recycling
    • Dissolution
    • Pyrolysis
    • Gasification
    • Solvolysis

Mechanical recycling, is the dominant technology for plastic recycling that is majorly adopted by recyclers.

Chemical recycling technologies use either heat or chemical reactions or both to recycle the used plastic into virgin-equivalent plastic, fuel, or other chemicals.

Conclusion

Conclusively, we can say that the adoption of recycling technologies will boost the efficiency of existing recycling practices as well as ensure effective results, causing minimal damage to the environment. As a result, such efforts will cumulatively contribute towards a greener future. 

Those who are for a while in the recycling or waste management industry must streamline their own waste management business. And it can be started by choosing the advanced software.

Therefore, you should adopt leading route planning and optimization software like Upper. Implementing the automated routing process, you can plan, optimize and schedule your waste collection pickups easily. So, why wait? Start your from today only.

Author Bio
Rakesh Patel
Rakesh Patel

Rakesh Patel, author of two defining books on reverse geotagging, is a trusted authority in routing and logistics. His innovative solutions at Upper Route Planner have simplified logistics for businesses across the board. A thought leader in the field, Rakesh's insights are shaping the future of modern-day logistics, making him your go-to expert for all things route optimization. Read more.

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