Continued Technological Advancements
In the coming months, the focus on using robots to sort recyclable materials and the use of chemicals to break down plastic is expected to continue. The University of Buffalo in New York received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to work on robot sorting and advancing the use of “environmentally responsible” chemicals to help break down the plastic resins.
While this is a four-year grant, researchers are already making progress on robots that will “learn” to sort plastic. They are expected to have a prototype ready by October. Automation is a welcome addition for the recycling industry because finding laborers to sort waste isn’t an easy task. The robots will also allow for materials to be sorted around the clock, helping to increase the amount of products welcomed into the process.
Researchers are also working on new ways to break down plastic, making the material easier to reuse. Chemical recycling has lower greenhouse emissions compared to other methods of recycling. Because some plastic packaging can’t be separated by mechanical means (i.e. different plastic resins that are glued together), a solvent-based approach could give new life to these plastics.
While the movement and success of recycling policy is still uncertain for the year ahead, there are a few bills that are expected to be reintroduced that have previously received bipartisan support.
First is the RECYCLE Act, introduced last year by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The RECYCLE Act would improve recycling outreach and education by allocating $15 million each year for grants to be used by state and local governments, nonprofits and tribes. This bill would also require the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) to update its guidelines on materials containing recycled content more frequently. The RECYCLE Act has been endorsed by recycling organizations. This bill would greatly improve the recycling rate and would help improve recycling streams, allowing for more material to be reused to create new products.
Second is the RECOVER Act, sponsored by Representatives Larry Bucshon (R-IN) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA). If reintroduced and passed, this bill would help boost infrastructure projects for curbside collection programs and material recovery facilities (MRFs) through $500 million in matching grants. It would also establish a recycling program with the EPA.
Growing Use of Recycled Materials
Already, numerous companies are utilizing recycled materials to create new products. Companies including All Bird, The North Face, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Ikea utilize recycled materials to create new products.
Recycling has many benefits beyond keeping the environment clean. And making a difference is simple. In fact, only five recycled plastic water bottles are needed to create a new T-shirt. If every American recycled just one plastic water bottle, that’s enough for about 6.5 million shirts.
In 2021, the upcycle trend won’t go out of style. As the recycling industry continues to innovate and consumers improve recycling habits (increasing the recycling rate), more businesses will have the opportunity to utilize recycled materials rather than relying on virgin production of goods. This will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions emitted during the production, extraction or mining of new materials.
To see what other companies are already using recycled materials to create new products, visit our Recycled Products page.