The environment is in a declining state at the moment, but it can be saved with the help of recycling, which is something that all businesses and people alike need to contribute to. It has become our social responsibility to take action, particularly for businesses, as it reflects their ethics and their approach to corporate social responsibility.
There are currently 4 approaches to recycling: primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary. If we recycle plastic bottles with the purpose of creating more with the same materials, that is considered primary recycling. Secondary recycling is where the recycled material is changed without using chemical processes, for instance, With the help of secondary recycling wasted plastics can be used in the production of carpets and other items. Tertiary is where a material is reprocessed using catalysts for chemical processes or the utilisation of heat. There is a lot of potential for this method as we can experiment with the catalysts used to try and find ways of wasting less energy. Quaternary involves energy recovery through heat, where the plastic is burned, this is a much less effective method as it recovers less energy than recycling.
One advancement that is constantly being worked on is with chemical recycling. We still haven’t harnessed its full capability, if we were to develop a way to break down plastic into monomers, there is the potential to infinitely recycle. Furthermore, we can use waste plastic to create materials with added value like Polysulfone, which has the capability for water purification as well as being valuable in medical equipment.
Something that is being looked at more recently is creating plastics that have the built-in ability to be easily taken apart chemically. It has been studied for a while, but issues with sensitivity to heat and light have made it hard to progress. Moving forward, chemists are trying to find a way where the strength of the polymer is improved and becomes less susceptible to the conditions it usually suffers in, while at the same time allowing for easy deconstruction. Researchers have discovered a new plastic through this method, that can be created through adding a polymer, which makes it tough while also making it easier to recycle.
Infrared (IR) lasers have begun to be utilised effectively in recent years in regards to plastics. We all know how slow it can be for people to sort through rubbish and find recyclable materials, so IR lasers shine on the plastics and are able to find the composition of each plastics. This then allows them to sort the different kinds of plastics into different places where they can be recycled together with similar plastics.
One of the most exciting new advancements with recycling is the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into recycling processes. One example of this is a recycling robot that is able to separate recyclable materials at incredibly fast speeds. It recognizes each individual material and is able to sort them accordingly. It can even recognize labels which further assists this whole process. The plan is to produce several of these AI robots which would be deployed on landfill sites where they can efficiently remove all recyclables from waste material.
One of the processes in recycling requires water, allowing plastic materials to be cleaned and cooled down. There have since been technological developments which can allow this process to be completed without the use of water, which could prevent mass energy usage. This also could tackle one larger problem associated with recycling, costs. The cost of the recycling process is often considered to be one of the things holding us back, but with these technologies, these costs can be reduced making it easier to recycle on a large scale.
It is time that we start to realise that as we progress, our trash can essentially be a source of energy and or oil which has been the source of crisis in recent years. The more time we can invest time into finding out how to reduce the energy wasted when completing recycling processes, then we can benefit massively and the level of pollution, particularly to the ocean could significantly drop. You can learn more about plastic in our ocean with Kwiksweep, courtesy of the following infographic.