The Green Series: Improving Recycling

By Ariana Sadr-Hashemi, Trainee Patent Attorney

Recycling has two major benefits to the environment; it reduces the amount of rubbish entering landfills and reduces pollution produced in creating new products. For example, recycled paper produces 73% less air pollution than creating paper from new materials and it takes 75% less energy to make a plastic bottle from recycled plastic compared with using new materials. Sadly, the average person in the UK still throws away their body weight in rubbish every seven weeks!

In order for recycling to become more widespread, technology is being developed to make recycling more efficient and cost effective. One area of improvement is how recycled materials are sorted once they reach a recycling centre. Here are some inventions looking to tackle this issue:

1) Sorting Paper

WO2018014237 presents an invention which aims to sort and process paper waste. The paper is passed under hot melt rollers which flatten it, before it passes into the main chamber. This chamber contains a colour detection device, which sorts the paper into three groups based on colour and separates those groups into three treatment tanks. In these treatments tanks, the paper is dissolved into pulp, which can then be used to make new paper products.

2) Sorting Plastic

CN108273741 is a sorting device aimed at sorting plastics based on weight. The plastic is poured into a vibrating container, which then rotates to pour the plastic in front of a fan. The heavier plastics then fall and are collected at the bottom of the device, whereas the lighter plastics are blown by the fan into a screen. The screen is vibrated so that smaller particles fall to the bottom of the device and are collected, while the bulky plastic remains on the screen and is collected separately.

3) Sorting Metals

US2001048039 is a machine designed to sort and extract metals from unsorted waste. The machine is fed a stream of material. This stream is then shredded, before being separated into a heavy stream and a light stream. Each stream is then passed through a magnetic separator, which attracts any ferrous materials and separates them from the streams. These materials can then be collected and reused.