September 19, 2023

Technology and Limiting Plastic Pollution

Limiting plastic pollution can be a controversial topic when one evaluates the efficacy of current efforts. However, existing technology is currently being overlooked when searching for recycling solutions. A study by researchers at The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization, showed that current commitments to limiting plastic pollution actually only limit a small percentage of plastic pollution rates into both land and water. If implemented and utilized, technology can improve current recycling and sustainability efforts and limit plastic pollution.

Mechanical recycling is the current most commonly used method of recycling. It involves a lot of physical effort and labor, one aspect being sorting the materials. Chemical recycling utilizes technology to create fuel, other chemicals, and higher quality plastics from recycled plastic. Artificial intelligence can assist with and improve sorting accuracy, therefore improving the recycling process and limiting pollution. However, chemical recycling and artificial intelligence can only help at the end of the recycling process. People still have to put the plastic in the bin.

According to a study conducted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), 66% of Americans will become discouraged from recycling if the process is difficult. Most people support the idea of recycling but rarely actually do it themselves. According to the EPA, 94% of Americans support recycling and 74% say it should be a top priority, but only about 35% of people actually recycle, despite 94% of the population having some sort of recycling program. Where is the disconnect coming from? The most difficult part of the recycling process for your average Joe is figuring out what he can recycle and how to do so. It can be overwhelming. So, how can the process of recycling be easier at the beginning for citizens wanting to recycle? Technology is the answer.

Smart recycling is one recycling technological development that can help the process of recycling at the source: the recycler. Artificial intelligence is used to help sort recyclable materials. However, this can get costly quickly as smart bins are very expensive. A user-friendly software like CIRT can help people find out information about recycling to make the process less overwhelming. CIRT provides geospatial information on recycling products and packaging to educate consumers on where to properly dispose of their waste. CIRT takes out the research aspect of recycling for the consumer and also helps companies track metrics on material recoverability.

Utilization of apps, smart bins, and AI can help average citizens to recycle more plastic, while technology on the back end of the recycling process can help make more sustainable materials from recycled plastic. By recycling more plastic, and being more environmentally friendly while recycling plastic, plastic pollution emissions can decrease by a larger proportion than ever before. If current commitments to recycling adjust to implement more technology, the process will become more efficient and effective, lessening plastic pollution.