Recycling, which was once a fad of environmentalists and so-called “tree huggers” is now mainstream in nearly every developed world community and here to stay. The benefits of recycling, and the perils of not doing it, have become crystal clear. In the U.S. today, we have reached a 34.6% recycling rate as of 2014. In just that one year, the recycling and composting of 89 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) resulted in a reduction of over 181 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.
Advances in recycling depend not only on buy-in from consumers and businesses, but also consistent innovation from scientists, engineers, and inventors. Here are just six top recycling innovations from the past year:
1. Diesel Fuel
A group of University of Illinois researchers have found a way to transform used grocery bags into diesel fuel and other petroleum products. Another benefit is that the energy used in the conversion process is less than the recovered energy.
2. Lightbulb Recycling
We’re all used to seeing those reverse vending machines that give you cash for your bottles or cans. Now, there are the same sorts of machines in some countries that will pay you to recycle your used lightbulbs. The machines were built by a UK firm called reVend and can be found in Brazil, the UAE, and the UK.
3. Concrete Bricks
A recent architectural graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Albany, New York has developed a sustainable building material from discarded plastic. Henry Miller took plastic bags and other plastic refuse and discovered a way to mix them with concrete to form bricks that had substantial environmental benefits. Plastics are being recycled for use in building and the concrete mix no longer needs mined aggregate as an ingredient.
4. Wi-Fi Recycling
Finland wanted to take a look at the amount of time and fuel that they were wasting by driving around to pick up nearly empty recycling bins at homes and businesses. If they were polluting the environment with emissions, the gains from recycling were being effectively canceled. A firm called Enevo invented a Wi-Fi sensor that attaches to the bins, letting the collectors know fill levels so that they only come out to collect when bins are full.
Recycling isn’t just a trend; it’s become a way of life for many people around the globe. Fortunately, we have the support of technology to help us make the most of our recycling efforts. U.S. residents can download an App called iRecycle. This gives users access to more than 1.6 million ways to recycle more than 350 materials. Users can search from their current location or enter an address for nearby recycling facilities.
— Bigbelly (@BigBellySolar) June 17, 2016
A growing trend, which has picked up steam in Europe with several well-placed regulations, is not wasting food. Two developers, Sasha Celestial-One and Tessa Cook, have developed an App called Olio that makes it simpler for individuals and local businesses to participate in this movement. Users can share information on surplus food items available, giving instructions for pick-up. The App is currently being used in the UK and Ireland but is set for expansion to other countries.
Even though the U.S. is one of the countries with the highest recycling rates, we still have a long way to go. Recycling efforts and innovation is an ongoing process. Fortunately, we’re continuing to see new developments each year that promise improvements and instill the hope of sustainable communities in the future.