How can pioneering technology collaborations improve recycling?

The majority of people want to do the right thing to play a part in addressing the global challenge of reducing plastic waste, but many of us are still confused about what plastics can and can’t be recycled. How can we help to create a more sustainable future for the next generation? Joshua Young, Circular Economy Manager at PragmatIC Semiconductor, shares an update on a project that highlights the importance of technology and collaboration in the war on waste.   

Lack of standardisation leads to consumer confusion

It’s Recycling Week (20-26 September), and Wrap (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) says we should each be focusing on what we can individually do to improve recovery rates. But according to new research by the recycling and packaging company DS Smith, some households are running out of space in their bins and are unable to recycle properly. During the height of the pandemic there was a significant increase in waste: more food containers and online shopping packaging than ever before. A trend that shows no sign of stopping.

Unfortunately, lack of standardisation is a big problem when it comes to waste management in the UK. For example, the types of plastic accepted differs by region, usually because kerbside collection is not economically viable if access to advanced facilities is not readily available. It's not surprising that this leaves consumers confused and they sometimes get things mixed up. Contamination makes it more difficult for the Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to handle the waste, increasing the costs. Surely, there has to be a better way?

Pioneering, next generation technology

The PragmatIC Semiconductor team is working with partners on several exciting sustainability projects that are using our item-level digital tracking technology to help increase recycling and reduce waste. For example, we are part of the One Bin project consortium, led by the University of Manchester, which brings together experts to explore the material, economic and social aspects across the whole supply chain of a new plastic recycling scheme. The project aim is to create ‘One Bin to Rule Them All’. To standardise the approach to plastic waste handling in the UK, with all plastic going into the same household bin to be sorted into reuse, mechanical and chemical recycling pathways. Adding electronic tagging technology will make it easier for consumers to recycle and for waste management organisations, such as MRFs to track items more efficiently, leading to improved recovery, recycling and reuse rates.

According to Dr Michael Shaver, Professor of Polymer Science at The University of Manchester, who is involved in the One Bin project; “The requirements to enable a circular economy of plastic in the UK are split into four interlinked themes: standardisation, infrastructure investment, collaborative business models and value creation. Dependant on these main themes there are specific technical, social and economic requirements, such as improving mechanical recycling processes, designing pathways for recycling or reuse, developing economically viable chemical recycling and implementing regulatory changes. Each of these is highly impactful on its own, but none can reach their full potential without realisation of the main systemic changes.”

Dr Ashiq Ahamed, Senior Researcher (Circular Economy) at PragmatIC, is working with Professor Shaver on the One Bin project. He comments: “The project aims to resolve some of the most important bottlenecks in plastic waste recycling, including standardisation, sorting and categorising the plastic types accurately. Enormous amounts of plastics are discarded as non-recyclable, primarily due to the impurities in plastic waste streams. By attaching a low-cost RFID tag to everyday items this could significantly improve the sorting efficiency without having access to the ‘line-of-sight’. It’s really exciting to think that the successful implementation of the ‘One Bin’ could facilitate a more effective and efficient recycling scenario in the UK and elsewhere. It favours the recyclers to be profitable, benefitting from a regulated and sorted stream of plastic waste. Essentially, it would create a greater opportunity for a more complete circular economy of plastics, thereby, minimising the leakage of plastics into the natural environment.”

Collaboration is key 

At PragmatIC we are committed to collaborating with industry, research and government bodies on projects that will help the environment. No one single solution, organisation or project will solve global challenges like plastic waste, but by working together we can start to make a difference and improve the situation for the next generation. It’s clear that in order to increase plastics recycling and reuse it’s necessary to reduce the barriers for consumers and reduce friction within the whole supply chain.

The PragmatIC team are proud that innovative technology such as our ground-breaking flexible integrated circuits can play a role in key circular economy initiatives like the One Bin project. 

 

To learn more about PragmatIC’s sustainability ethos please go here.