JAN 12, 2022 9:30 PM PST

The Next Step in Global Plastic Recycling

WRITTEN BY: Samantha Lott

Plastics are one of the most commonly used materials in the modern world. We use plastic for everything, clothes, electronics, medical supplies, and much more. But most plastic ends up in landfills and is not recycled. In 2018, less than nine percent of plastic was recycled. In order to use plastic more sustainably, we must move toward a more circular economy. Keeping materials within the value chain for a longer period of time, getting more use out of a particular resource is the basis of a circular economy. Recycling plastic for as long as possible is essential to using plastics responsibly.

Recycling plastic is difficult and usually not economically valuable. It can cost a lot of money to pay people to individually sort and clean plastics, so much of the time, they are chipped and sorted in other ways, like flotation of chipped pieces, or mechanical sorting. There are many different kinds of plastic, including thermoplastics like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE); thermosets like melamine, silicone, and epoxies; and fibers like acrylic, polyester, and spandex. Some are easier to recycle than others, and they must be treated in different ways in order to be successfully recycled. They also have different values and qualities for different recycled applications.

A new study offers a potential solution for the sorting problem. AI has been successfully trained to distinguish different kinds of plastic very quickly, allowing for quick factory automation of plastic sorting. A machine with incredibly sensitive hyperspectral cameras can identify the composition of different plastics. After some quick math transformations of imagery data, machine learning can aggregate the data and identify at least thirteen different kinds of plastics. Machinery that already exists can then sort the different material into different places to be recycled independently. This can increase the quality of plastics intended for recycling, as only the highest quality plastic is eligible for recycling.

It can be easily scaled and adopted by many recycling plants, as similar technology already exists using cameras to sort materials of all kinds. This could help economically advantaged countries to take ownership of more of their waste and ship less of it to landfills in economically disadvantaged countries.

Sources: Vibrational Spectroscopy, Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances, EPA

About the Author
  • A dedicated and passionate naturalist, nature photographer, and freshwater biologist.
You May Also Like
NOV 03, 2021
Technology
How to Profit from Solar Power at Home
NOV 03, 2021
How to Profit from Solar Power at Home
The cost of home solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have plummeted. Today nearly every household in North America will prof ...
NOV 29, 2021
Plants & Animals
Extinction of Ancient Grazing Species Caused an Increase in Global Fires
NOV 29, 2021
Extinction of Ancient Grazing Species Caused an Increase in Global Fires
Extinction events have been common in Earth’s history. Over the last 450 million years, for example, there have be ...
DEC 01, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Debris on White Dwarf Stars Reveals Planets with Compositions Unlike Earth's
DEC 01, 2021
Debris on White Dwarf Stars Reveals Planets with Compositions Unlike Earth's
When a small or medium-sized star reaches the end of its life, it becomes a white dwarf. Suns produce energy by fusing h ...
DEC 21, 2021
Plants & Animals
Deep Under Ice in the Antarctic, Life Lurks
DEC 21, 2021
Deep Under Ice in the Antarctic, Life Lurks
Scientists were surprised to find an area deep underneath Antarctica's ice shelves teeming with life. Researchers have r ...
DEC 21, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
More Pollution, More Heart Attacks?
DEC 21, 2021
More Pollution, More Heart Attacks?
  When air pollution levels soar, so do calls to emergency hotlines specifically for heart attacks, says a Ger ...
JAN 17, 2022
Plants & Animals
An Earth-Friendly Diet Starts With Swapping One Food Item Per Day
JAN 17, 2022
An Earth-Friendly Diet Starts With Swapping One Food Item Per Day
When we think about dieting, we often think about how it affects our own physical and mental health. But what about the ...
Loading Comments...