How can sustainable technology be used in recycling?

Image by Pawel Czerwinski via Unsplash.com

When you think about recycling, your mind is probably instantly drawn to the environmental benefits, such as the prevention of waste going to polluting landfills. However, there are also some harmful aspects of the industry, and these present opportunities for technology to be utilised to help clean it up.

For years, technology has made it easier for individuals, businesses, and sectors to make more sustainable choices to better protect the environment. From renewable energy sources to electric vehicles, there are a plethora of different ways technology can help to clean up our collective carbon footprint.

When it comes to recycling, how can this seemingly ‘clean’ industry benefit from green technologies? Here are three opportunities for the industry to make better use of modern innovations to benefit the environment.

Electric vehicles

Collection is the first stage of the recycling process, and it presents an obvious opportunity for sustainable technology to be used. Electric vehicles are predicted to play a central role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation across the globe, but they aren’t commonly being used in the recycling and waste management industry currently.

However, there are some existing vehicles that could potentially become universally standard in years to come and go a long way towards cleaning up the industry’s footprint. Whether individuals take their items to a drop-off centre, or they’re picked up via kerbside collection, this all adds to the industry’s total emissions, particularly where fuel-thirsty, polluting vehicles are used. If electric vehicles could be used more frequently at this stage of the process, this would be an important first step towards sustainability.

Renewable energy

The phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is commonly used to help encourage individuals to make better choices regarding their personal waste management. However, some environmentalists would argue that there is a reason ‘recycle’ is placed last in the list, as the environmental benefits of reducing and reusing are far greater. It goes without saying that if you use fewer items in the first place, you’ll be doing less harm to the environment than by using them and then recycling.

But this isn’t the only reason that ‘reduce,’ and ‘reuse’ are seen as more important. The recycling process uses vast amounts of energy, and this presents another opportunity for sustainable tech to be utilised. Acquiring energy from renewable sources such as solar or wind will help to reduce the industry’s reliance on fossil fuels, and ultimately create a cleaner environment.

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Packaging

It’s not just the recycling industry that can use sustainable technology to make the process cleaner and more efficient. It’s also the responsibility of manufacturers to modify packaging so it’s easier to recycle and therefore more environmentally friendly.

One-way manufacturers can make their packaging more sustainable is by using innovative materials, such as mushroom-based packaging, which is already being used by furniture brand Ikea for some products.

It’s not just about what physically goes into the packaging, but it’s also important to consider the impact of the supply chain in producing and distributing products. By creating an eco-friendly supply chain, i.e., one that promotes sustainable practices such as use of renewable energy, manufacturers can reduce the environmental impacts of products throughout their entire lifecycle. 

by Blake Miller

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