By Aldous Hicks, CEO and Co-founder of ReCircle Recycling Ltd
In some parts of the world, people now have half a dozen different bins to recycle everything; paper, plastic packaging, glass, food waste etc. This is part of the huge change that means that most of the Western world has stopped throwing everything into landfill and has begun to take responsibility for collecting recyclable materials.
Despite our best intentions, the true value of recyclable materials is not being realised. In their pure state, recyclable materials are very valuable, but the cost and difficulty of separating mixed recycling make it uneconomical. In some cases, over half of the items we put into the recycling bin aren’t recycled.
Fortunately, people are becoming more aware of the problem. Documentaries and pressure groups have repeatedly shown the huge amount of rubbish in our seas and oceans, along with the damaging effects it has on wildlife. People want to make a change.
That change is coming slowly. In January 2019, UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to eliminate the UK’s plastic waste by 2042. But how do we ensure it doesn’t become another green-wash?
Currently, even when used-materials are recycled, they tend to be made into ‘lesser’ products. A plastic bottle, for example, may be processed into packaging materials which are then disposed of in a landfill.
A truly green initiative, however, would be to move towards a 100% closed-loop recycling system. That is, a system where a recyclable product is transformed back into its original form. A plastic bottle would be remade into a plastic bottle or an item of equal value several times before it’s disposed of.
Most of us intuitively assume recycling systems already work on a closed-loop basis. Separating mixed plastics, however, is difficult and expensive on an industrial scale and even a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can cause an entire batch to become contaminated. Just .05 KG of PVC plastic within 1,000 KG of PET flakes can cause it to become brittle and yellowish in colour.
People have stepped up and taken some responsibility for their environmental impact and are putting pressure on businesses and governments to make more of an effort.
However, recent documentaries, such as the BBC’s Blue Planet II, have demonstrated just how far we still have to go when it comes to recycling. Many people no longer trust curbside collection to solve the problem completely and are feeling paralyzed about what else they can do.
The simple answer is to let the public take a more active part in the recycling process. Instead of confusedly separating items and hoping for the best, consumers should be empowered to confidently segregate different types of plastics, for example, and ensure they are delivered to manufacturers in a pure form, ready for closed-loop recycling.
In fact, by delivering 100% pure materials back to manufacturers, consumers could benefit directly from government schemes encouraging the purchase of recycled materials.
This is where technological innovations, like ReCircle, will play a major role. ReCircle is an appliance for home or business that will use a sensor to identify and segment different types of plastic, glass, metal, etc. The appliance will then wash and grind the materials for storage in the base. The pure materials are then picked up and the consumer reimbursed for the weight of recycled materials.
Appliances like ReCircle are a key step towards achieving 100% closed-loop recycling and help empower households to make purchasing decisions which take into account the product’s life cycle assessment and closed-loop recyclability.
In 20 years, every individual in the world will understand that if we place two used-materials made of different substances in the same receptacle, then we have actively decided to create waste. It will also be public knowledge that our waste-creating decision destroys both cash and environmental value.
Creating waste in this way will become socially unacceptable and downright rude.
The De-Manufacturing Economy
I predict that within 10 years, the businesses of the world, starting with the fast-moving consumer goods companies, will be able to deliver on their extended producer responsibility (EPR). This means that all product prices will include the environmental costs accumulated during their production in order to incentivise more sustainable production practices, minimise waste, and ensure product longevity.
Within 20 years, I predict that there will be a closed-loop recyclability index (CLR) displayed on every product, indicating both the sustainability of the manufacturing process and the cash value of the packaging once recycled. Just like ingredient contents in food, this will influence a consumer’s purchasing decision.
The future can seem rather bleak when we see documentaries showing the patch of waste three times the size of France floating in our oceans and when we discover that more than half of the contents of our recycling bins can end up in a landfill. The problems seem too big, too insurmountable. We feel we have no choice but to pass on responsibility and hope someone else will fix the situation.
But I think the future is much more sustainable than current predictions.
By setting 100% closed-loop recycling as our goal and empowering consumers to make an active contribution, we will recentre the economy around sustainability, incentivising new industries that will flourish with the rise of EPR and CLR. In 20 years, recycling will be an intrinsic part of our economy, just like oil extraction is today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aldous Hicks is the CEO and Co-founder of ReCircle Recycling Ltd. Aldous has over 30 years of business experience as a technology and software developer, project manager and mechanical engineer, including developing water and material recycling technology. He developed SOHO custom PC database software and prior to that worked with Mannesmann Demag AG, a multi-national German mechanical heavy engineering company.
Aldous has now turned his attention and expertise to the recycling economy, founding ReCircle to create a solution that will empower consumers while reversing the unsustainable and inefficient recycling system.
ReCircle Recycling Ltd (RRL) https://www.recirclerecycling.com/ aims to address the problem of contamination with our patented technology in the form of a recycling appliance.
The main function of the appliance, or “ReCircle”, is to ensure captured used-materials are kept separated with 100% accuracy. By keeping each type of used-material separated and pure, the appliance will ensure the inherent material value is not lost due to being mixed with other different materials – the major problem with the current recycling system.
By guaranteeing 100% purity of recyclable materials, ReCircle can;
● Remove the need for the current expensive and inefficient collection of co-mingled recyclables and the ensuing problematic sorting & separation processes.
● Guarantee 100% closed-loop recycling of glass, steel, aluminum and plastics (PET & HDPE) processed by the ReCircle appliance.
● Retain the value of used recyclable container materials, so they can be sold at a premium and successfully closed-loop re-manufactured after their useful life.