Power Recycling Inc. http://thinkpowerrecycling.com #1 Industrial Recycler Wed, 06 Feb 2019 15:42:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 115662012 Can The Ocean Cleanup Eliminate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/can-the-ocean-cleanup-eliminate-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch/ Wed, 06 Feb 2019 15:42:17 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4484 On September 8, the Danish offshore tugboat Maersk Launcher left the port of San Francisco, towing a 2000-foot-long floating tube attached to a 10-foot screen. It’s […]

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On September 8, the Danish offshore tugboat Maersk Launcher left the port of San Francisco, towing a 2000-foot-long floating tube attached to a 10-foot screen.

It’s destination? The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), about 1400 nautical miles off the coast of the U.S.

It’s purpose? Begin to clean up the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world.

A Teenager’s Dream Come True

Dutch inventor Boyan Slat was 16 years old, diving off the coast of Greece, when he was surprised to see more plastic than fish down there. “Why don’t we just clean it up?” he kept thinking.

Two years later, he finally got a chance to do something.

In 2013 Slat founded a non-profit technology firm called The Ocean Cleanup. Crowdfunding provided the initial $90,000 in start-up capital, as well as a subsequent $2.2 million.

Over a two-year period, the company conducted six expeditions to the North Atlantic to measure the vertical distribution of ocean plastic. Three expeditions to the GPGP followed.

A mega expedition of 30 vessels in 2015 discovered that the plastic concentration in the GPGP was much greater than previously estimated. They also learned that most of the plastic was large debris, such as abandoned fishing gear.

After three more years of testing, including a North Sea prototype, the first stage of the GPGP cleanup (dubbed System 001) was finally deployed from San Francisco last September. On October 16, it reached its destination and began its massive task.

You can follow the progress of System 001 on Twitter or by clicking here.

How It Works

The Ocean Cleanup team consists of more than 80 engineers, researchers, scientists and computational modelers. But the principle behind The Ocean Cleanup is relatively simple: Use the ocean’s own currents to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris.

Here’s how the system works:

  1. Wind and ocean currents move the U-shaped floater system slightly faster than the ocean plastic.
  2. As plastic accumulates in the center of the U, the system acts like a giant Pac-Man, skimming the ocean surface.
  3. Every few months, a garbage vessel extracts the collected plastic.
  4. The collected plastic is sent to land-based recycling centers. From there, it’s refashioned into consumer goods and sold. Revenues are then used to help fund ocean cleanup in other areas of the world.

The company’s long-term goal is to deploy 60 systems by the year 2020. At that rate, Slat estimates that 50% of the entire GPGP could be cleaned up in five years.

—Article continues below—

Protecting Marine Life

But what about marine life? Is it at all affected by Slat’s floating systems? Apparently not. In fact, the company outlines four ways in which The Ocean Cleanup system is designed to protect sea life:

  1. The systems move through the ocean at extremely low speeds, allowing creatures to swim away.
  2. The screen attached to the floater is impenetrable, so the ocean current flows beneath the screen. Any organisms that can’t actively move are guided below the screen. (Floating plastic remains inside the system.)
  3. The screen is not a net, so sea life cannot become entangled.

  4. Crew members are present to check for marine life whenever plastic is removed from the water.

The Nature of the Beast

One of the more surprising findings of the company’s earlier expeditions has been the nature of the plastic within the GPGP. Specifically, that three-quarters of it is large — between two and 20 inches in size. (While microplastics comprise 94 percent of plastic in the patch, that only amounts to eight percent of the total tonnage.)

In fact, fishing nets account for 46% of the mass in the GPGP. The majority of the rest is other fishing industry “ghost gear” (ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates, and baskets).

Not only is the ghost gear a serious hazard for marine life, but it can also break down into smaller pieces and microplastics within the GPGP. Once that happens, they’re very difficult to remove and are often mistaken for food by marine animals.

To Boyen Slat, the next few decades will be crucial to ensuring that these large pieces of plastic don’t become microplastics.

“If we don’t get it out, the amount of microplastics can be tenfold or 100-fold. It’s this problem that’s waiting out there to magnify many times unless we can take it out.”

In the following video, Mr. Slat further explains the details of his entire project and the science behind it:



The Ocean Cleanup



National Geographic

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Converting Plastics to Energy: The End of the Line http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/converting-plastics-energy-end-line/ Wed, 02 Jan 2019 15:11:12 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4453 On a South Australian beach in May of 2016, local residents were cleaning up the shoreline after a storm. Among the debris they recovered was a […]

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On a South Australian beach in May of 2016, local residents were cleaning up the shoreline after a storm. Among the debris they recovered was a MacDonald’s Filet-O-Fish box.

The polystyrene container bore an old design and logo, but the packaging itself appeared good as new. It wasn’t. McDonald’s had stopped using such containers in 1991.

Historians have typically defined past civilizations by the type of materials they leave behind. The stone age…the bronze age…the iron age. No doubt future archeologists will dub our era as “the plastic age.”

As a species, we seem to leave a trail of plastic in our wake wherever our feet touch the planet. Our plastics pile up in landfills, clog our waterways, and choke our wildlife.

Plastics to energyDetermined to Change

But some researchers are determined to change that. Take, for instance, Australian chemists Prof. Thomas Maschmeyer and Dr. Len Humphreys.

Together they’ve developed a way, not to replace plastic, but to eliminate it. Their technology company Licella has pioneered a method to transform end-of-life plastics into a petroleum substitute. The resulting high-quality oil is suitable for blending into standard hydrocarbon fuels. The team is currently working with energy investors to build the world’s first commercial hydrothermal waste upgrading plant.

Licella has already conducted successful trials at its pilot plant in New South Wales, Australia. Now they’re working with Armstrong Energy to build a plant in the UK. About 20,000 tons of waste will be transformed into fuel every year just from this one facility. The project is scheduled to come online by 2019.

And then there’s Bin2Barrel, a Dutch company founded in 2012 by waste management entrepreneurs Floris Geeris and Paul Harkema. Like Licella, Bin2Barrel converts previously unrecyclable plastic into fuel. Specifically, fuel to power cargo ships.

The company’s first facility is being built in the Port of Amsterdam, and is expected to begin operations very soon. Once it’s up and running, the plant will convert 35,000 tons of (primarily plastic) waste into 30 million liters of fuel during its first operational year. (Note: In June 2018, Bin2Barrel was purchased by IGE Solutions.)

The Dutch government is hoping this will be the first of four such “plastics-to-fuel” factories to be built near the port.

Environmental Trade-off?

But some experts warn that substitute fuels present their own environmental consequences.

Dr. Tom Beer is an honorary fellow at one of Australia’s top governmental research agencies. To him, there’s an environmental trade-off in the development of plastics-to-energy technology, especially with respect to carbon emissions.

About a third of all extracted oil is used to produce plastics, he says. And that effectively “locks the carbon up into plastic.”

End-of-life plasticsBut if that plastic is then converted into bio-crude and burned, the carbon is then released. “It depends what you value most. Do you want to get plastic out of landfills and out of the oceans? Fantastic, but it does mean carbon emissions.”

Still others believe carbon would not be the only unwanted emission resulting from the use of bio-crude. Prof David Cohen is a specialist in the use of nuclear techniques to track fine particle air pollution.

“If you convert organic material into fuel and then burn it – then you’re going to end up with a combination of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and byproducts that could include soot, volatile organic carbons and carbon dioxide, which are all not so good for the atmosphere.”

In Cohen’s view, renewable or low-emission energies are a better choice for delivery power without “pollution displacement.”

Groundbreaking Techniques

However, Maschmeyer says Licella utilizes a groundbreaking technique that involves extracting hydrogen from water. To do that they use a Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor, or Cat-HTR.

The company claims that while “nature takes millions of years to create fossil fuel,” the Cat-HTR “takes 20-30 minutes to create a renewable bio-crude oil.” According to Maschmeyer, converting waste to fuel via Cat-HTR results in a much lower carbon footprint than typical crude oil processing.

The folks at Bin2Barrel go even further. They claim that the diesel produced at the Bin2Barrel factory reduces CO2 emissions by a whopping 80 percent, compared to traditional diesel production methods.

But Is It Really Renewable?

Critics of waste-to-energy (WtE) solutions also argue that this sort of technology impedes the growth of truly renewable forms of power, such as solar and wind.  “Renewable” energy typically refers only to non-fossil sources: Wind, solar, geothermal, hydrothermal and ocean energy, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas, and biogases. (See related article, “Clean Energy…From Garbage Dumps!“)

One outspoken critic of WtE even claims that it’s “a treatment for the symptoms of our desire for too much energy and our generation of too much trash. Let’s stop treating symptoms and start treating causes.”

And yet, you can’t deny that WtE technologies offer a more environmentally friendly option than reliance on fossil fuels–while also addressing the challenge of ever-growing plastic pollution.

Plastics-to-fuel technologies may not be “renewable” in the traditional sense, but they’re certainly  worth pursuing. Not only because of the lower carbon emissions, but because they do something previously considered impossible: Recycle the “unrecyclable.”


Marine Link

The Guardian

Licella Holdings

Huffington Post

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Transforming Haitian Waste, Case by Case http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/transforming-haitian-waste-case-by-case/ Wed, 05 Dec 2018 15:19:06 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4405 Amid the landfills and impoverished streets of one of the world’s poorest nations, hope is emerging. Resourceful entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alike are tapping into […]

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Amid the landfills and impoverished streets of one of the world’s poorest nations, hope is emerging.

Resourceful entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) alike are tapping into the rich recycling potential of Haiti. All while reducing waste and helping local communities.

A Case in Point

Take Jack Foley, for instance, an 18-year-old from Rockville, Maryland, and student at Ohio Wesleyan University. He recently started ReYuze Cases, a company that fashions iPhone cases from 100% recycled plastic from the streets, canals and landfills of Haiti.

Foley’s company collects the plastic water bottles and containers and ships them to its ecofriendly factory in the United States. Each phone case is made out of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and then shipped to the consumer using biodegradable packaging.

Foley’s initial vision was simply to help save the oceans. But it wasn’t long before he recognized another serious problem which also had to be addressed: Child labor in the dangerous Haitian landfills.

Addressing Another Serious Problem

Foley soon learned that some 400 families rely on waste collection in Haiti’s Truttier landfill as a primary source of income. And about  300 children live and collect in the landfill as their source of survival. (See related article, “Recycling Systems in the Developing World.”)

So now one dollar from every ReYuze purchase goes to The First Mile Coalition, a Los Angeles-based effort dedicated to ending child labor in Haiti and helping Haitian communities. So far, the organization has been instrumental in providing families with food assistance, access to medical care and education.

But Foley also wants to benefit his local community, which is why he manufacturers his phone cases at a Gaithersburg, Maryland, facility.

Making iPhone cases is only the beginning for Foley. He plans to begin producing cases for other phone brands, as well. And the company is currently working on procuring plastic from other developing countries.

Wherever they are, the mission is always the same: “Saving the world, case by case.”

The Tap Tap Garden

Numerous Haitian landfills were created by the massive earthquake which struck the island in 2010.  One of the largest dumping sites is a former reservoir outside of Cite Soleil, an area known as the most dense and dangerous slum in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s in this very community where several organizations have combined their efforts to create Haiti’s largest urban garden.  The Jaden Tap Tap (“Tap Tap Garden”) is a green oasis amidst an otherwise garbage-strewn eyesore. The garden began in 2012 as a way to recycle urban waste (such as discarded tires). Anything that can serve as a plant container is utilized.

A New Beginning in Cite Soleil, Haiti: The Jaden Tap Tap from Bochika Organization on Vimeo.

The garden grows 20 types of vegetables and herbs, as well as the moringa tree. Known as “the Tree of Life,” the moringa tree’s leaves are rich in protein and vitamins. They’re a godsend for malnourished Haitians, who often add them to juices, soups, cornmeal and rice.

This acre of former landfill now symbolizes hope, empowerment, education and opportunity for one of the poorest communities on the planet.

Nothing Wasted

One of the organizations that was instrumental in creating the Tap Tap Garden is SOIL a Haitian NGO that uses a process called EcoSan to transform human waste into rich compost.

Did you know that Port-au-Prince is the largest city in the world without a sewage system? That’s a deadly situation, and cholera is far too common. In fact, 10 Haitian children die every day from water-borne illnesses.

But SOIL’s EcoSan process is hoping to change all that. The program simultaneously tackles two of Haiti’s toughest challenges. Here’s how:

  1. Retrofitted porta-potties provide sanitation to people who would otherwise have no access to a toilet.
  2. Human waste is safely treated and transformed into an endless supply of  rich, fertile compost, critical for agriculture and reforestation.

Here’s how it works: Customers pay a small monthly fee for placement of a locally made EcoSan toilet in their home. Once a week, SOIL collects the full waste receptacles and replaces them with empty sanitized ones. They also replenish a supply of cover material (used for “flushing” a dry toilet).

In addition, the company provides portable toilets outdoor social events, construction sites, or other mobile toilet needs, through  EkoMobil, its mobile toilet service.

Since 2006, the members of SOIL have been committed to restoring Haiti’s beauty and vitality by transforming wastes into resources, while promoting dignity for the Haitian people.

Is It Working?

  • Since building its first waste-treatment facility in 2009, SOIL has become one of the largest sanitation operations in the country.
  • Every month, SOIL’s two composting facilities transform more than 50 metric tons of human waste into safe, organic, agricultural-grade compost.
  • The compost that’s produced at these facilities is then sold to farmers, organizations and businesses around Haiti to support agricultural and reforestation efforts, while subsidizing the cost of SOIL’s waste treatment operations.

Continued Efforts Needed

The recycling industry in Haiti has grown substantially over the years, and is beginning to make headway in cleaning up the island. But the problem with waste disposal is still enormous in this nation of almost 11 million people occupying a space five times smaller than Florida.

Clearly, the need for ongoing recycling initiatives is vital.


Recycling Today

Recycling International

ReYuze Cases

The Guardian



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Specialized Recyclables…Who Knew? http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/specialized-recyclables-who-knew/ Wed, 07 Nov 2018 15:43:46 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4332 (Editor’s Note: This is an article about specialized recycling efforts. None of the items mentioned are recycled by Power Recycling.) In 1989, Alabama hair stylist Phil […]

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(Editor’s Note: This is an article about specialized recycling efforts. None of the items mentioned are recycled by Power Recycling.)

In 1989, Alabama hair stylist Phil McCrory was washing an oily head of hair while watching news footage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Sea otters and other wildlife were covered in oil.

That’s when he had an “aha moment.” Hair collects oil. What if we could use the natural oil-absorbing properties of human hair and pet fur to clean up oil spills?

McCrory experimented at home, using hair stuffed into pantyhose. He quickly realized that his idea was indeed brilliant. Before long, the hair stylist/inventor teamed up with the ecological non-profit Matter of Trust, and the Clean Wave project was born.

Using hair clippings from salons, fur from pet groomers, fleece and feathers from farmers, the project produces two types of products:

  • Recycled fiber mats (known as “hairmats”), which are sent to public works departments for use as filtration systems in storm drains.
  • Sausage-shaped oil containment booms, made from hair stuffed into recycled pantyhose. These are used for emergency cleanup and to “sandbag” and protect coves and beaches.

To date, the Clean Wave project has helped clean up oil spills in the U.S., Korea, France, the Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon area of South America.

Hair is just one of the specialized recyclables you’ve probably never heard about. Here are a few more:

Dentures for Kids

The Japan Dentures Recycling Association wants your old false teeth. The non-profit collects dentures in order to reclaim the precious metals inside, such as gold and silver. All of the proceeds are donated to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The association depends on the contributions of people like Isao Miyoshi, who operates a dental laboratory in Japan. According to Miyoshi, clasps and other metals used to stabilize dentures are often alloys of gold, silver and palladium. Five grams of these alloys are worth around $20 once they’re separated from the dentures.

“People on average get new dentures every three years, because the condition of their teeth changes,” Miyoshi said.

“Most people don’t know what to do with [their old dentures] and they end up keeping them in a drawer. That’s really a waste of something useful. “ 

“Once the new ones are made, dentists usually give the old ones back to the patients. But most people don’t know what to do with them and they end up keeping them in a drawer. That’s really a waste of something useful. In our lab, we make about 30 new dentures a day, that means 30 more are thrown away.”

To date, the Japan Dentures Recycling Association has raised more than $250,000 for UNICEF.  To donate your old dentures, click here.

Chew on This

British designer Anna Bullus is on a mission to clean up the streets. Disgusted by the amount of chewing gum litter found in public places in the UK, she decided to take action. Which is why Bullus founded Gumdrop Ltd in 2009.  It’s the first company in the world to recycle and process chewing gum into a range of new compounds. Compounds that can be used by manufacturers in the rubber and plastics industries.


The core of Bullus’ company is the Gumdrop bins:  bright pink, bubble-shaped bins specifically designed for chewing gum disposal. The bins are strategically placed in high-traffic public areas. Once the bin is full, it’s taken to a recycling plant.

That’s because, as it turns out, used chewing gum is incredibly useful as recyclables go. Composed primarily of synthetic rubber, the gum can be recycled into tires, toys, shoes, cups and a host of other products. (For instance, the Gumdrop bins themselves are made from recycled chewing gum.)

England’s Heathrow Airport and Great Western Railway have already installed the bins and have plans to expand the program. Across the Atlantic, Gumdrop has also caught the eye of chewing gum giant Wrigley.

According to Wrigley spokesman Alex Hunter-Dunn, “Gumdrop is a really creative and innovative way to get people responsibly disposing of their gum and binning it. We fundamentally believe that behavior change is the only long-term sustainable solution to tackle the issue and we are very much behind that.”

Giving an Arm and a Leg

Prosthetic limbs cannot be reused in the United States, due to legal considerations. But they can be disassembled and shipped to Third World countries for use by landmine victims and other individuals in need.

For instance, Standing with Hope was founded by a double amputee and her husband, who were inspired by Princess Diana’s work with landmine victims.

Labor for their operation is provided by inmates at a Nashville, Tenn., prison. Every year these inmates disassemble and ship about 500 limbs to Ghana. Once the limbs are received, local technicians trained by the organization reassemble the components to create a custom fit for waiting patients — for free.

Other organizations are also stepping up to fill the need for these recyclables, including Physicians for Peace, Limbs for Life, and Range of Motion Project. For the complete list of U.S.-based groups that accept used prosthetic limbs, visit the Amputee Coalition of America website.

Holy Crap!

Rounding out our list of unusual recyclables…

Did you know that about 20 billion disposable diapers end up in U.S. landfills each year? And each diaper takes about 500 years to decompose?

But it doesn’t have to be like that. TerraCycle, a Trenton-based company known for its innovative recycling solutions, just may have the answer. Take a look:


The Balance

Matter of Trust

Japan Times


ABC News

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Robotics and Recycling Do Mix! http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/robotics-and-recycling-do-mix/ Wed, 03 Oct 2018 14:45:52 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4297 Working at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) can be dirty and dangerous. In fact, MRF workers are more than twice as likely to be injured on the job […]

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Working at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) can be dirty and dangerous.

In fact, MRF workers are more than twice as likely to be injured on the job as the average worker. Seventeen of them were killed at work between 2011 and 2013 alone, making recycling one of our country’s most dangerous occupations.

Enter the Robots

But that could be changing. With the rise of artificial intelligence, sophisticated robotics are now turning up at MRF’s across the nation. That’s where cameras and computers guide and train these trash-sorting robots to recognize specific objects.

Here’s how they work: The robots’ arms glide over a moving conveyor belt searching for their target. Then they use their suction cups or over-sized tongs to snag cans, glass, plastic containers, cardboard and other recyclables and toss them into nearby bins. They do this at a rate of about once every second. That’s up to twice as fast as their human counterparts, and with greater accuracy.

Three manufacturers are predominately responsible for the new technology:

AMP Robotics, based in Denver; Bulk Handling Systems (BHS) of Eugene, Ore.; and ZenRobotics of Helsinki, Finland.

Could This Be the Answer?

And not a moment too soon.

Last January, China (the world’s leading importer of recyclable materials) stopped accepting our trash due to contamination concerns. (See related article, “Exporting Our Trash: Who Will Take It?“) This sent recycling companies scrambling for solutions.

With robotics technology, recyclables are cleaner and better sorted. Less risk of contamination means more viable markets for the recycled materials. As explained in Waste Management World, “Intelligent robotic systems can process almost any given waste stream and sorting capabilities can be redefined for every new market situation — even on a daily basis.”

Combine this with the aforementioned worker safety concerns, and robotics appear to be the perfect answer.

A.I.’s “Deep Learning”

The computer algorithms embedded in this robotics technology utilize what’s known as “deep learning” to improve garbage sorting. Unlike standard robotics used in manufacturing (which are programmed to perform mundane, repetitive tasks), the recycling robots employ a unique “visioning system” in their software.

AMP Robotics

For instance, take AMP Robotics and its trash-sorting robot called Cortex. According to company CEO Matanya Horowitz, each Cortex is trained by showing it thousands of examples of bottles, cans, packages, and other items. “It learns to identify all of these materials on its own,” Horowitz said. It does this by looking for “logos, shapes, and textures.”

While most optical sorters used at MRF’s can identify one material, Cortex can pick multiple materials. The robot detects a material’s location on the conveyor belt and  intercepts it using grippers, and deposits it into the appropriate bin.



AMP Robotics has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the Closed Loop Foundation, and the Carton Council. The company’s Cortex systems are now in use at three U.S. recycling plants.


Finland-based ZenRobotics has been around more than 10 years. Its systems incorporate robotic sorters with sensors and arms for specific applications, such as construction and demolition (C&D) waste. (According to the EPA, the vast majority of U.S. waste is comprised of C&D debris.)

ZenRobotics’ Recycler creates a real-time analysis of the waste stream using multiple sensors. Then, based on the analysis, the Recycler makes autonomous decisions on which objects to pick and where to place them.

With C&D waste, for instance, the robot sorts heavy metal, wood and stone fragments. In fact, the company’s largest robot, called Heavy Picker, can lift objects weighing up to 60 lbs. And its gripper can accommodate materials up to 20 inches wide.


Since it began, ZenRobotics has installed its AI recycling system at two U.S. locations and in 10 other countries, including Australia and Japan.

Bulk Handling Systems

Bulk Handling Systems (BHS) makes a garbage-sorting robot called Max-AI. The spidery-armed robot uses a suction cup as a grabber. And it’s able to make multiple sorting decisions autonomously.

For example, it can separate thermoform trays, aluminum, and paper while also removing residue from a stream of PET bottles. All at superhuman speed.


According to Thomas Brooks, BHS director of technology development, “Max is more than just a robotic sorter. Max-AI technology will soon become the active brain of our MRF’s, controlling various robotic, optical, and other sorting equipment, providing real-time material composition analysis, and making autonomous decisions.”

It can also integrate seamlessly with an MRF’s existing optical sorters. Company officials anticipate that this technology will lead to a decrease in plant operating costs and downtime, and an increase in throughput, recovery and purity.

So far, three sites in the U.S. and three sites in Europe are using Max-AI, with more robots on order.

About Jobs

But what about the workers? Should they be concerned about machines replacing them?

Probably not. Recycling robotics are currently appropriating only the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs on the sorting lines. These are the positions that are the hardest to fill and keep filled.

“Labor is a significant challenge for MRF operators,” explained BHS CEO Steve Miller. He believes robotics technology “will be very beneficial in helping our customers manage that aspect of their business.”

And ZenRobotics CEO Timo Taalas even goes a step further. He speculates that the increased efficiency at MRF’s may actually create more jobs at paper mills, plastic recyclers, and other firms that reuse raw materials.


Waste 360

Recycling Today

NBC News

Waste Management World

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Landfills: Sitting on a Gold Mine? http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/landfills-sitting-on-a-gold-mine/ Wed, 05 Sep 2018 14:42:10 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=3904 Nobody wants to live near a landfill. Landfills present a host of environmental problems, such as methane emissions and groundwater contamination, often resulting in health-related issues for […]

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Nobody wants to live near a landfill.

Landfills present a host of environmental problems, such as methane emissions and groundwater contamination, often resulting in health-related issues for nearby residents. They’re also noisy, smelly, and ridden with vermin.

But what if we could transform these waste dumps from an environmental and health threat into an opportunity for resource recovery? Enhanced landfill mining could do just that.

The Problem with Piles of Trash

For more than a century, the human race has been discarding its waste in landfills. The U.S. alone currently has about 2,000 active landfills and as many as 10,000 more inactive landfills. Many of the closed landfills pre-date the EPA’s 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In other words, they have little or no environmental protections in place.

Without protections, methane emissions and groundwater contamination can reach threatening levels. For instance, as biodegradable organic matter decomposes in the landfill, methane gas is released. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas. Which makes landfills a serious global warming problem.

landfill mining

Likewise, whenever rain falls on the landfill, both organic and inorganic materials begin to dissolve. This forms toxic “leachate,” which can result in serious contamination of the local groundwater.

Consequently, the EPA  requires closed landfills to be monitored for at least 30 years after waste placement ceases.

Landfill Remediation

Landfill remediation — the process of cleaning up toxic landfills and introducing environmental protections — is necessary, but costly. For instance, it cost one Belgian public waste agency more than $105 million to excavate and move hazardous waste to state-of-the-art sanitary landfills over an eight-year period.

Costs like that are prohibitive to many countries. Particularly the developing nations — the very places that have the greatest need for remediation.


Landfill Mining

Going a step beyond remediation is the concept of landfill mining (sometimes referred to as “urban mining”). Landfill mining involves the excavation and processing of solid wastes from the landfill. As part of the process, of course, hazardous materials are removed and protective measures are taken. But that’s only part of it.

Landfill mining also recovers:

  • Valuable recyclable materials
  • A “combustible fraction” (useful for power generation)
  • Soil
  • Landfill space

The concept of landfill mining was first introduced back in 1953 at the Hiriya landfill near the city of Tel Aviv, Israel. (See related article, “Clean Energy…From Garbage Dumps!”) Similar to other types of mining operations, the process of landfill mining basically uses a system of excavators, screens and conveyors to separate and transport the various types of waste.

Odor control sprayers may also be used to neutralize the smell of exposed wastes.

Limited information is available on landfill mining projects that have been carried out on a worldwide basis. But in the United States, only six landfills have been mined, most of which are located in the Northeast.

In the US, however, the term “landfill mining” has increasingly become a misnomer. The primary motivation for landfill mining in this country has been to redevelop the landfill to meet current EPA standards and gain valuable additional space for active waste filling. Any reclamation of recyclable materials has been considered secondary.

Enhanced Landfill Mining

Which is why organizations like the World Economic Forum are advocating what they call “enhanced landfill mining.” The idea behind enhanced mining is to recycle 100% of landfill materials. The following video clip depicts this European concept:

By combining landfill remediation with recovery of the excavated waste, experts believe the net cost of the remediation activity can be drastically reduced. The recyclable goods and energy can provide much-needed revenue to offset the cost of remediation.

As indicated in the film clip above, plasma gasification technology can now be used to transform traditionally non-recyclable landfill material into the green, low-carbon “plasma rock.” This rock can be used in the production of various consumer goods, such as building materials. Apparently, 45 lbs of plasma rock can be created out of about 220 lbs of landfill waste.

This enhanced approach to landfill mining is currently being demonstrated in two flagship projects, NEW-MINE (for municipal solid waste) and METGROW+ (for industrial waste). Both are funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme.

Will the U.S. follow suit? That remains to be seen.

But as resource recovery technology improves, and raw resource reserves deplete, the possibilities for landfill mining are likely to increase.

Experts agree. According to waste industry magazine Waste Management World, “As resources become scarcer and demands on land for development increase, so the pull factors for landfill mining will strengthen.”



World Economic Forum

World Resource Foundation


Waste Management World

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Could You Live in an Earthship? http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/could-you-live-in-an-earthship/ Wed, 01 Aug 2018 14:21:54 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4114 Fifteen minutes outside of Taos, N.M., sits the global headquarters for one of the world’s most extraordinary construction firms. Earthship Global is the brainchild of architect […]

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Fifteen minutes outside of Taos, N.M., sits the global headquarters for one of the world’s most extraordinary construction firms.

Earthship Global is the brainchild of architect Michael Reynolds. In the 1970s, Reynolds wanted to create a home that would do three things:

  1. Utilize sustainable architecture, as well as locally indigenous and recycled materials
  2. Operate off the grid using natural energy sources
  3. Be affordable and easily constructible by the average person.

Reynolds’ design method is known as “biotecture” – architecture that greatly reduces the use of energy and natural resources. The following video clip outlines his philosophy:

Welcome to Earthships

Reynolds’ Earthships are ultra-sustainable houses built from recycled tires, aluminum cans and bottles, all of which are packed with soil, then plastered over with natural mud. No brick and mortar. No wooden wall studs. Just dirt and trash.

In fact, a single one of these homes recycles as many as 5,000 tires.

Earthships are banked into the earth, with a southern exposure for maximum sunlight. Which makes them extremely energy efficient. The earthen properties, with their thick and dense inner walls, keep the homes cool in summer and warm in winter. An Earthship is typically horseshoe-shaped to maximize natural light and solar gain during winter months.

All of the rooms are situated along a corridor with a huge bank of windows, eliminating the need for electrical lighting as long as the sun is shining. The homes also rely on solar panels or small wind turbines for renewable energy.

But that’s not all…

Precious Water

The roof of an Earthship catches water from rain and snow melt. The water is channeled through a silt-catching device and into a cistern. The cisterns are positioned so they feed into a WOM (water organization module). This device filters out bacteria and contaminants, and makes the water suitable for drinking and bathing.

Water that has been used at least once and is unsuitable for drinking (called “greywater”) is reclaimed and used for a multitude of purposes. To make it reusable, the greywater is channeled through a grease and particle filter — a “botanical cell” imbedded with plants.

Some of the water is taken up through the plants and transpired to humidify the air. The rest is directed through a peat-moss filter and collected in a reservoir or well. From there, the reclaimed water is used to flush conventional toilets and to irrigate gardens.

Ramming the Tires

The earth-rammed tires for each Earthship are usually assembled by teams of two people working together as part of a larger construction crew. Here’s how they do it:

  1. One member of team shovels dirt from the building site, placing it into the tire a scoop at a time.
  2. The second team member stands on the tire and uses a sledge hammer to pack the dirt in.
  3. The second person moves in a circle around the tire. This keeps the dirt evenly distributed and prevents the tire from warping.

Each earth-rammed tire weighs as much as 300 pounds, making it very difficult to relocate (which is why they’re constructed on site). The tires are used to make walls, foundations and footings. They have exceptional load-bearing capacity and are also fire resistant.

To see the complete Earthship building method, click here.

Earthships have been constructed in every state of the U.S., as well as numerous European countries, Africa, Central and South America. In 2012, Europe’s first Earthship district, comprised of 23 homes, was constructed in the Netherlands.

Several Earthship schools have also been built in various places across the globe.

Earthship Academy

There’s even an Earthship Biotecture Academy, which offers extensive training in Earthship design principles, construction methods and philosophy. The classes are taught by Reynolds and a staff of Earthship builders, electricians, plumbers and plant specialists.

The academy is accredited through Western Colorado University. To date, 1,400 students have graduated from this program. In addition, a Youth Academy is available for students between 18 and 21 who are seeking an intense three-week training session on Earthship techniques.

Take a Test Drive

If you’re not quite ready to construct your own Earthship, you can always rent one. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to “test drive” an Earthship for a night or two in Taos:



Earthship Global

Environment and Ecology

Laurel’s Compass

Arch 20

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Exporting Our Waste: Who Will Take It? http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/exporting-waste-who-will-take-it/ Wed, 04 Jul 2018 14:59:26 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=3958 The Chinese cargo ship lumbers into the American port, its containers brimming with all manner of consumer goods. Electronics, machinery, furniture, toys, plastics. Four days later, […]

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The Chinese cargo ship lumbers into the American port, its containers brimming with all manner of consumer goods. Electronics, machinery, furniture, toys, plastics. Four days later, the ship disembarks from the American port, brimming with trash.

The Way Things Were

For decades, cargo containers loaded with American scrap and waste have been shipped to China for recycling. In fact, scrap and waste is the sixth largest U.S. export to China.

It’s worked that way for a long time. They send us containers of consumer goods, and we return those containers laden with scrap. It’s been a boon for the U.S. recycling industry, shipping tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, rubber and electronics that Chinese recyclers desperately need.

It’s a $5 billion annual business. That is, it was — up until recently.

China Doesn’t Want It

Last July Beijing notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it would ban the import of 24 varieties of solid waste, effective at the start of 2018. The banned materials include types of plastic and unsorted paper commonly sent from the U.S.

That announcement has U.S. recyclers scrambling for cost-effective alternatives.

Shipping the waste to China has been the most economical option for the U.S. and other developed nations – primarily due to cheap Chinese labor. In fact, shipping the scrap from the U.S. to China is much cheaper than sending it by rail from Los Angeles to Chicago.

In 2016, China imported about 35 million tons of scrap plastic and waste paper from the U.S., Europe and Japan. Unfortunately, Beijing claims, much of that scrap included dirty and hazardous material mixed with solid waste. This contamination, they say, has resulted in serious environmental pollution. Last year, the government shut down numerous recycling facilities and arrested 259 suspects for failure to use the necessary pollution controls.

China’s ban is intended to “reform … the management system of solid waste imports, promote the recycling use of domestic solid wastes, protect the ecological environment and people’s health.”

Adina Adler, an official at the U.S. Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), said the ban caught Western recyclers by surprise. “We respect what the Chinese government is trying to do … and we want to be helpful, but they gave us practically no time for any kind of transition.”

The ISRI is challenging the ban.

“China has an environmental crisis on their hands and they need to do something about it, but we don’t agree on imposing an outright ban,” said Adler. “That’s not the answer.”

What Are the Alternatives?

The WTO has not yet issued a final ruling on China’s ban. In the meantime, waste exports to China have virtually stopped.

The U.S. currently does not have the capacity to recycle all the waste we produce without exporting. Until we are able to fully process all of our recyclables, we must rely on other countries. Demand is growing in India, Latin America and, particularly, Southeast Asia.

According to the latest report by research and consulting group PCI Wood Mackenzie, Southeast Asia could potentially become “a world leader” in importing plastic waste. The region is now advancing toward increased development of its reclamation capacity and secondary markets.

“With financial investment from China, advances are currently under way across the chain and are gaining momentum,” the report added.

China’s ban may also present an opportunity for U.S. recyclers, particularly with high-value waste (such as clean plastic bottles). But what about low-quality waste, the “bottom of the barrel” stuff?

Emerging Technologies

One answer could lie in the development of new technologies.

For instance, a British company called Recycling Technologies has stepped up to the plate. They’ve developed a method of recycling the most unpleasant mix of dirty plastic into something they call “Plaxx.” Plaxx is a fuel oil which can be used for a myriad of applications, including as a source for new recycled plastic.

According to company CEO Adrian Griffiths, there’s no shortage of raw material to feed the process.

“We chemically recycle plastic. We take it back to the original material, so it can become more plastic again: plastic, back to oil, and back to plastic again. Anything that goes to landfill currently is feedstock for us, and since the recycling figures [for low-quality plastic] are so low, the vast majority of the plastic we want is not in recycling use anyway.”

Sounds like the type of long-term solution we just might be looking for.



World Trade Organization

Plastics News

Earth 911


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Fireworks Displays: Bad for the Environment? http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/fireworks-displays-bad-for-the-environment/ Wed, 06 Jun 2018 14:52:28 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4021 Fourth of July weekend is fast approaching. Which, of course, means fireworks. And who doesn’t love those? We gaze in awe at these dazzling displays of […]

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Fourth of July weekend is fast approaching. Which, of course, means fireworks. And who doesn’t love those?

We gaze in awe at these dazzling displays of color and design that ignite the sky. One moment they’re there, and the next…they’ve completely disappeared into the night.

Or have they?

Not really. But these colorful explosions disappear so quickly, it’s easy for us to overlook their environmental impact.

After the “Oohs” and “Aahs”

What exactly are the effects of these spectacular pyrotechnics on our environment?

Not surprisingly, they propel a cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere, some of which can harm both people and the environment in high doses. The vivid colors in the displays are produced by metallic compounds such as barium or aluminium. And these metals have varying degrees of toxicity.  (See sidebar.)

But the main problem with traditional fireworks is that they contain certain oxidizers called “perchlorates.” These are needed to produce the explosion.  (In fact, these compounds are so highly reactive they’re used by NASA to boost space shuttles off the launch pad.)

But, alas, what goes up must come down. When perchlorates come down, they can dissolve in water, contaminating rivers, lakes and drinking water. And they’ve been linked to hyperthyroidism in humans.

Perchlorate advocates state that the substance should all be incinerated in the sky before any can fall down to contaminate the earth. But according to EPA spokesman Skip Anderson, “Studies suggest that some perchlorate in fireworks is not combusted and therefore can wind up in the environment.”

Then there’s the issue of smoke and particulate matter. Studies have indicated that air-quality monitors spike for about three hours after a fireworks display, until the particulates drift away or settle out. Which means that fireworks can lead to significant air pollution problems.

For example, fireworks during India’s annual Diwali festival (the Hindu “festival of lights”) have been known to cause air pollution much worse than even Beijing on a bad day. In 2016, a public health alarm was issued in Delhi, after a toxic haze blanketed the city for days following the Diwali fireworks. As a result, India’s Supreme Court banned the sale of fireworks during the 2017 Diwali.

Are There Eco-Friendly Alternatives?

So far, the challenge to scientists has been to find replacements for perchlorates and barium that are still explosive and water resistant. They’ve met with some success.

For instance, new pyrotechnic formulas have been developed that replace perchlorate with nitrogen-rich materials or nitrocellulose that burn cleaner and produce less smoke. These formulas also use fewer color-producing chemicals, dramatically reducing the amount of heavy metals used.

Some of these eco-friendly alternatives have already been used at circuses, rock concerts and other events, but few  have been used at large outdoor displays. The problem is, they’re much more expensive (at least, for now). So the challenge remains to make the greener alternatives cost-competitive with conventional fireworks, while still maintaining their dazzle and glow.

Here’s What They’re Doing “Down Under”

In the meantime, places like Sydney, Australia, are going the extra mile. Famous for its New Year’s fireworks display (the first on the planet to be ignited at midnight), the city has developed a program that is 100 percent carbon neutral. Here’s how:

    • Event goers are encouraged to bike, walk or use public transportation reach the festivities
    • The city’s professional-grade, eco-friendly fireworks are made from biodegradable paper and chemical compounds that quickly dissipate in the air.
    • Nearly all of the garbage left behind is recycled.
    • Recycled rainwater is used to wash the streets after the event.

Finally, for any residual pollution resulting from the display, the city purchases carbon offsets, to ensure the event is carbon neutral.

Suggestions for a Greener Fourth

To eliminate fireworks from our celebrations seems a bit extreme (perhaps even unpatriotic). But maybe we can at least mitigate their effects.  If you’re interested in limiting the environmental impact of fireworks this year, here are a few suggestions:

  • When purchasing fireworks for personal use, ask about the availability of more eco-friendly options.
  • Color choices matter. The barium in green fireworks makes them less “green” than other colors.
  • Avoid purchasing or using any product that claims to emit lots of smoke (i.e., smoke bombs).
  • Pay attention to the “leftovers.” Always clear the display area of waste and recycle whenever possible.
  • You might also encourage your community to explore alternatives to a traditional fireworks display, such as a laser light show.

Just look at the fantastic display the folks in Sydney were able to pull off–all with eco-friendly fireworks:




The Conversation


Mother Nature Network

American Chemical Society

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5 Amazing Planet-Saving Technologies http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/5-amazing-planet-saving-technologies/ Wed, 02 May 2018 14:34:58 +0000 http://thinkpowerrecycling.com/?p=4185 A few years back, biologist, surfer and entrepreneur Kevin Kumala was disgusted by the amount of plastic waste threatening the pristine island of Bali. He resolved […]

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A few years back, biologist, surfer and entrepreneur Kevin Kumala was disgusted by the amount of plastic waste threatening the pristine island of Bali.

He resolved to create a better, completely biodegradable plastic.

Toward a Plastic-Free Environment

Inspired by the use of corn and soy starch in creating bioplastics, Kumala focused on using cassava, an inexpensive root vegetable commonly found in Indosesia.

The resulting “100% bio-based” material is biodegradable and compostable. It breaks down over a period of months on land or sea. But it also decomposes instantly in hot water.

To prove that his bioplastic leaves no trace of toxic residue, he periodically dissolves the material and drinks it.

“I wanted to show this bioplastic would be so harmless to sea animals that a human could drink it,” Kumala says. “I wasn’t nervous because it passed an oral toxicity test.”

His bioplastics firm, Avani Eco, now produces more than four tons of material a day, and is working with the Bali government toward creating a plastic-free environment for the entire island.

Skimming Trash

A New Delhi company has developed a system for skimming trash from the Ganges River. Cleantec Infra operates debris-skimming boats to collect floating plastic bags and bottles, discarded idols, and construction waste from India’s holiest (and filthiest) river.

Gates on each side of the boat’s collection head guide material toward a conveyor, and then close to trap the material. The conveyor then transfers the waste to a storage area on the boat. From there, an unloading conveyor transfers the waste to a dump truck.

The skimmer can collect 20 tons of trash in about four hours.

Floating Garbage Cans

And speaking of cleaning up waterways, one Australia-based initiative has resulted in the development of an automated floating garbage can with a pump. Dubbed the “Seabin,  this device is being placed at marinas and other calm bodies of water that are often littered with trash.

Here’s how it works: Water is sucked in from the surface and passes through a catch bag inside the Seabin. A submersible water pump, capable of displacing more than 6,500 gallons per hour is plugged directly into a standard 110/220 V outlet. (Although the company is also working on a solar-powered design.)

The water is then pumped back into the marina, leaving the litter and debris trapped in the bag.

Each Seabin holds about 45 lbs of debris, almost all of which is recycled. And the Seabin filter can catch microplastics as small as 2mm in size. There’s also a pad at the bottom to soak up oil.

The Seabin Project has really taken off in Europe, particularly at luxury marinas.  To date, the company has received orders from about 70 countries.

Building Blocks

U.S.-based startup ByFusion has responded to the plastic pollution crisis with a technology that permanently recycles waste plastic into durable construction blocks. The process is the brainchild of New Zealand-based inventor Peter Lewis, one of the company’s principal engineers.

His method uses a modular platform that compresses plastic debris into blocks of various shapes and densities, based on custom settings. The resulting plastic building materials are called ByBlocks (formerly known as RePlast). And the machine used to create them is called the Blocker. The Blocker is portable, designed to run on either gas or electricity, and uses all types of plastics. That’s right — no washing or sorting required.

ByFusion’s system is touted as a “nearly 100 percent carbon-neutral, non-toxic manufacturing process,” The Blocker uses no glue or adhesives, and the resulting ByBlocks produce 95 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional concrete blocks.

ByFusion’s vision is to “leverage technology, business and common sense” in order to utilize all of the planet’s used plastic.

Sustainable Chargers

How about using a sustainable resource to charge your electronic devices?

PocketPower is an ultra-portable solar charger, which can be folded and easily fit into your pocket. When folded it’s about the size of a standard Iphone. This waterproof charger is ideal for camping, travelling, hiking and emergency preparation.

And so is the WindPal, a portable vertical axis wind turbine, lets you recharge your devices when you’re off the grid.

This lightweight turbine is made from nylon fabric and aluminum, and delivers a slow, steady charge for any electronic device. The WindPal can generate a charge in as little as 8-mph winds, and reaches maximum output around 20 mph.



Cleantec Infra





Wide Open Spaces

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