Over the last several decades, the number of Americans who recycle has steadily grown, and over 70 percent of Americans now enjoy curbside recycling programs in their communities. This increase has resulted in a robust recycling industry, which has created tens of thousands of jobs and has stimulated the economy to the tune of $105 billion.
In addition, many manufacturers and retailers have begun to use recyclable materials in their products and packaging, and more items than ever before are now recyclable. There is still room for improvement, however. Major technological innovations are entering the market and more recycling solutions are being discovered everyday.
Wi-Fi Technology Meets Waste Management
Most cities in the United States have organized recycling programs that collect recycling from curbside bins. However, because there is no way for trash collectors to know if the bins are full, workers have to stop at each home whether they are full or not. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but being able to exclusively target full bins would cut down on truck emissions, save fuel, and reduce vehicle wear and tear.
The company Enevo has developed a new wireless sensor that monitors the contents of recycling bins. This sensor helps trash collection workers avoid unnecessary stops while encouraging consumers to only put out the bins when they have reached capacity. Additionally, Enevo is creating software that will provide workers with the best route between full bins.
Old Tires Get New Life
We throw away 300 million tires every year, but most people don’t think about the environmental implications of tossing these items into the environment. While some people recycle tires for things like playground padding, mulch, or as a component for road asphalt, this doesn’t put a dent in the millions of tires that end up in landfills annually.
There is hope, however. An Australian scientist recently pioneered a way to use old tires as a replacement for coke in steel mills. Aside from keeping tires out of landfills, this process serves to significantly increase the energy efficiency of the steel-making process.
Plastic Cups Go Green
Nowadays, most household plastics are made from recyclable material and are fairly easy to incorporate into your recycling routine. The exception to this is those red party cups that are popular at social gatherings. These cups are made from a material called polystyrene, which is very rarely recycled. Though the recycling company TerraCycle has a program in place for recycling these cups, most people do not want to go through the extra step of mailing in the cups.
Luckily, there is a sustainable alternative to the red party cup. Some companies are developing cups made from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which comes from recycled plastic bottles, thus enabling them to be recycled over and over again.
Batteries Find New Use
Batteries are among the least recycled items, mainly because lead-acid batteries contain substances that are detrimental to the environment. This is especially true in undeveloped countries that do not have access to alternative power sources or rechargeable batteries.
Recently, a team of engineers at MIT found a method to harness battery lead to make solar cells. These solar cells can then be used to make solar panels for residential use and have the potential to produce enough energy to power 30 homes. This process not only keeps toxic batteries out of landfills, but it also provides a cost-effective way to harness power.
Researchers and inventors continue to create new recycling technologies. While some of the solutions mentioned here are still years away from widespread use, others have continued to see a steady increase in popularity. In addition, manufacturers have realized how much of an impact their products have on our environment and are making efforts to address the problem of excess waste. As technology continues to grow and evolve, there will undoubtedly be more and more innovations to help preserve the planet and make recycling easier for all of us.