Since the advent of recycling, we have continually looked for innovative ways to improve how we reduce, reuse, and recycle our used goods. This search has given rise to a number of exciting trends that will dramatically impact the recycling and waste management industry in the years to come. Read on to explore five of the emerging trends that you should be watching right now:
Emphasis on composting
Composting will become an increasingly popular means of recycling biodegradable goods. Though many people already use this method to break down their food waste, this trend is only just beginning to take off. Municipalities across the globe have begun to add community-wide composting programs that encourage residents to divert their food items from landfills. For example, Sunnyvale, California, has tested two separate composting initiatives that use a split-cart system to encourage locals to recycle their food scraps. By encouraging households to separate food items from other trash, the city has made it easier to recover scraps and reuse them as animal feed.
Programs like this will only become more popular as communities continue to encourage both individuals and food service businesses to use it in daily life. In some locations, composting is even on its way to becoming a mandatory practice.
The plastics ban
One of the most significant recycling trends in recent years has been the ban on non-recyclable plastics. Numerous communities across the globe have adopted these restrictions to minimize the presence of plastics that require millennia to degrade, causing harm to the environment in the process. In the past, US states such as Hawaii and California have taken steps to prohibit the use of plastic grocery bags, a trend that other governments will likely follow in the future.
Styrofoam is another major target of the plastics ban. Sometimes known as expanded polystyrene foam, this type of plastic is composed of manufactured chemicals and other non-renewable materials. Not only does this make Styrofoam non-recyclable, but it also eliminates its ability to biodegrade like other materials. Major cities such as New York City have spearheaded the effort to eliminate Styrofoam containers and reduce pollution in the waste stream. As more municipalities recognize the harmful effects that this material can have on the environment, we will see the number of similar bans continue to rise.
Adoption of 3D printing
An increasingly popular manufacturing option, 3D printing is capable of creating everything from small, detailed items to large-scale industrial components. As useful as this technology may be, it is not sustainable in its current form. In order to produce most 3D printed creations, individuals must typically input plastic-based materials. As a result, this phenomenon has caused the demand for plastic to increase.
However, the future of 3D printing will shift away from this dependence on new plastics in favor of recycled materials. People can already use any type of household plastic in their 3D-printed creations, thereby reducing the waste that they produce. The possibilities do not stop with plastic, however. In the future, 3D printing could enable us to use recycled materials in the production of everything from buildings to automobiles. This sustainable trend will be one in which both individuals and corporations can participate.
Increased concerns about e-waste
Electronics have become an integral part of life. Despite the importance of smartphones, computers, and other consumer devices, this increased use of electronics has caused great concern for entities in the waste management sector. Every device will, ultimately, become electronic waste, or e-waste. The toxic composition of these products makes them notoriously difficult to recycle through traditional means. As a result, most of them end up in electronic landfills.
As we continue to use more electronic devices, the amount of this e-waste will only increase. This has posed a unique challenge for the recycling industry, which will need to search for solutions in the coming years. Already, e-waste is finding more sustainable uses thanks to the work of individuals like West African inventor Kodjo Afate Gnikou, who used scrap electronics to create a functioning 3D printer. Similar recycling innovations will be essential to diminishing the world’s volume of e-waste.
Implementation of technology
Technology is becoming an increasingly important asset in industries ranging from health care to commerce. Though the waste management sector has been behind this trend for many years, soon we will see these companies integrate the technology into more and more recycling practices.
For instance, in order to increase their productivity and sustainability, recycling facilities will adopt the use of revolutionary technologies such as anaerobic digestion, which has already been adopted by some facilities across the United States and Europe. Using anaerobic digestion devices, recyclers can turn up to 100 tons of organic waste into usable bioenergy on a daily basis.
Robotics is another innovative technology that is set to change the face of the recycling industry. In the years to come, the sector will see increased use of robots capable of sorting and breaking up recyclables more accurately than current practices allow. In fact, such technologies have already begun to appear. In 2016 tech giant Apple introduced Liam, a groundbreaking machine that can fully dismantle an iPhone in only 11 seconds. This has set a precedent for future robotic technologies that will become integral parts of the entire recycling process.