Image via Connie Zhou/IBM
Image via IBM
Traditional recycling is labor intensive – requiring that material be totally clean, and sorted perfectly. Often times, items that are dirty or mixed plastics can’t be recycled so are diverted to landfill. For example, a jar of peanut butter may use different plastics for the lid and the jar so if you throw the whole thing in the bin, no one at a recycling center is going to take the lid off and wash out the jar before processing it further.
IBMs new chemical process “selectively digests” plastics so recyclables don’t need to be sorted or cleaned. This new technology would make it much easier to recycle things that were traditionally almost impossible to breakdown into its component parts, like polyester-cotton blend fabric. The entire item can be placed into a machine, where a pressure/chemical reaction separates plastics from other materials, producing a clean, white powder that can be used in place of virgin petroleum products.
IBM is working with partners to see if they can scale the technology while keeping costs down so this could become a viable alternative to our current infrastructure.