Innovations shaping waste and resource management

Working in waste management is both challenging and interesting. While many people and organisations may subscribe to the idea of a circular economy, those working in the industry know that the practical steps to make it happen are not that simplistic. Not only do business strategies need to change but with every change comes another practical implementation challenge. It takes continual innovative thinking to overcome these.

Fortunately there seems to be no shortage of innovative minds which is great news for the industry. These are some of the latest innovations adding value to the recycling and resource management industry:

A solution for sorting elusive black plastic packaging

Black plastic might look nice for food packaging but it’s been a nightmare for the recycling industry. Typically sorting facilities use infrared imaging to sort different types of plastic for recycling and because black absorbs infrared light the sensors don’t pick up the packaging and it gets discarded as waste.

Unilever, who uses black plastic in many of their cosmetic and shampoo product ranges set out to solve this problem together with several industry partners. The solution was to change the pigment in the black dye adding in amongst other things iron filings. This not only make the plastics easier to detect, they can also be easily extracted in the recycling process. 

Recycling Lithium-ion batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are a headache for the recycling industry often being the cause of fires. Additionally, extracting and recycling the battery materials is not easy. In a pilot project, American Manganese confirmed that independent lab test showed high extraction rates of cathode materials using a new and recently patented technology.

Whilst, due to the patent, the technology may not be widely available to the industry, it will support the company’s aim of developing circular economies for the production of lithium ion batteries.

Dirty Plastics don’t matter anymore

One of the biggest challenges with recycling is the problem of contamination. Food waste as well as other contaminants add to costs and complications of recycling materials. IBM researchers set out to solve this problem and developed a process called VolCat, short for VolitileCatalyst.

Plastic is ground up and then cooked at temperatures above 200 degrees centigrade. In the process chemicals separate polymer bonds, eating through food residue, dyes and glue, producing an end result that is a white powder. The powder can readily be made into new plastic containers.    

Mixed plastics

While many types of plastic can be recycled, the sorting process is cost and time intensive. Now Tesco is experimenting with recycling mixed plastic into a single commodity that can be re-used as a feedstock for creating new plastic packaging.

The process involves shredding mixed plastic then heating it in a chamber without oxygen. This turns the plastic into a vapour, which is then distilled into an oil – trademarked as Plaxx.  It is hoped that further trials will support the feasibility of the project and help Tesco to achieve their aim of having 90% of their own label recycled packaging in their stores, setting them on their way to achieving 100% recyclability by 2025. 

Robotics in recycling

Robotics companies are using AI powered robotics to sort recycling more efficiently and at a lower cost than current methods. This presents an opportunity to scale up recycling operations through automation. While this technology is still in its infancy it may prove to be a valuable commodity as the industry continues to grow.

It is exciting to see these innovations and it makes me wonder: “What’s next?” With growth happening in all sectors of the industry, there’s no doubt that we will continue to see creative solutions to industry challenges.

If this innovative mindset resonates with you and you’re looking for a new opportunity, we’d love to hear from you. We have many different openings currently available countrywide with a broad spectrum of industry clients in resource management and renewables. Contact us on or Tel: 01252 353 080.