November 28, 2023

The Future of Recycling

Society has been recycling materials for a long time now. Before the invention of sophisticated recycling technology and systems, people and businesses would repurpose items everyday, even at the industrial scale. Paper from parchments and letters were reused for new scripts in Ancient Japan. Mills in colonial America would collect used linens and cotton clothes and recycle them into new garments. World War 2 created a surge in recycling, as people would collect rubber, steel, tin and paper to support the troops and save money on resources. Recycling has been practiced by humans for hundreds of years and, like everything else, it too has evolved on a massive scale to suit the needs of a developing civilization. Recycling technology is a rapidly growing field that focuses on creating processes that circulate materials in a way that’s energy efficient, beneficial to the environment, and safer for public health. Recycling technology can apply principles from chemistry, engineering, computer science, and other fields to create these solutions, and these recycling techniques often involve an interdisciplinary approach with lots of moving parts. 

There are many different ways in which a material can be recycled, and they vary based on the needs of the customer, the budget of the recycling facility, and the embracement of innovative strategies by the company. The most common and longest practiced method of recycling is mechanical recycling. Akin to the papyrus reused by Ancient Japan or the used linens collected by colonial mills, mechanical recycling involves the physical grinding, shredding, and conversion of recycled material to make new material of the same chemical composition as the waste. Mechanical recycling is very popular among material recycling facilities because of its cost effectiveness and rate at which recycled material is produced. There are some downsides to this technique however - the profit created from mechanical recycling heavily depends on the material selected and it can be energy intensive to power the machinery needed for mechanical recycling. 

Chemical recycling is another popular method of recycling technology that involves the use of various chemistry techniques to make similar or different materials from the waste. These new materials can be used in a variety of ways, and that is the incredible benefit of chemical recycling - you’re not trapped with the same material. Material can be exposed to gasses or solvents to decay waste into simpler molecules that can serve other purposes (even fuels like propane, a viable natural gas that can be used in power production). Microbes can be used to break down biodegradable waste into biogas, another fuel source, or compost, a soil ameliorant. Certain solvents can be used to completely break down waste at the molecular level and reassemble it in its purest form, leading to an infinitely recyclable product. Because of how customizable the end products for chemical recycling are, the innovative technology is hailed as a major step in the right direction for promoting circularity and recycling. While chemical recycling has its strengths, there are some concerns regarding the methods themselves. Many chemicals used in these processes could pose a threat to human health and biodiversity if not managed properly. It is essential that aspects of green chemistry be employed to reduce health risks and increase chemical recycling’s appeal and potential for good. 

While the actual process of recycling material is important, it is just as important to increase the rate at which recyclable materials enter the recycling stream. Without an increase in the circularity of products, innovations in recycling wouldn’t maximize their full benefits to humanity. Using computer science and artificial intelligence, numerous technologies have been developed to increase circularity of recyclable material. Remote smart bins are able to sense when trash and recycling cans are full and alert solid waste services. Sorting systems in bins are able to differentiate between recyclable product and landfill waste from thrown out material. Sensors at Materials Recovery Facilities can automatically categorize recycled material and divert said material in an efficient manner. AI and computer systems are used to develop collection routes for solid waste services that reduce exhaust emissions and maximize the amount of waste containers collected. Consumers can also utilize apps to help them determine how or where to properly dispose of a product, whether that be in a recycling bin, a solid waste bin, or a drop off center. These complex technological systems are producing positive results for the world already and are leading the way in innovative approaches to solid waste management.

In an information economy where technology has the potential to positively impact societal wellbeing, it is essential that quality technology be produced from companies that aid in the circularity of materials and the reduction of waste entering the environment. This is the principle by which CIRT operates, and it is why we are at the forefront of information technology for sustainability and circularity. Throughout our time as a company, we have developed numerous applications to help inform consumers on how and where they can recycle their products and packaging. CIRT Check offers the user a real time recyclability analysis on a product they select and provides disposal information based on their location. We also offer accurate recycling information from the United States and other countries to allow businesses to make informed decisions about their product and packaging materials and how they can contribute to the circular economy. CIRT is committed to sustainability and we as a company strive to make a meaningful contribution to recycling technology.