WE TAKE PLASTIC
Despite the fact that plastics are used everywhere —
especially in products which are intended to be disposable — the
recycling rate for plastics compared to metal, paper, and glass is
abysmal. It’s somewhere around 6% which means 94% of
potentially recyclable plastics end up in landfills or in the stomachs
of our sea friends. The problem is that it’s a gigantic hassle to do
the obligatory pre-recycle sort with plastics. There are recycle
numbers stamped on most plastic containers, but plastics with
the same number often can’t actually be recycled together.
Basically, it’s a mess.
Mitsubishi Electric Engineering Corp and Osaka University are
tackling this problem with a robot, since we humans have proven
ourselves to be fairly worthless at plastic recycling. As you might expect, the robot has some capabilities that we don’t —
namely five lasers of different wavelengths that can be used to determine the reflectivity index (and therefore the composition)
of most plastics. The robot will automatically sort plastics into six different types which takes the hard work of manual
identification out of the recycling process.
There aren’t specific details on how much plastic one of these robots can actually sort through every day, but there is a
commercial version in the works which should be available (at some point) for around $55K.At that price, it’s not going to
be resource neutral anytime soon, but at least it will make you feel better about your recycling habits.And the sea turtles
will thank you.
26 SERVO 04.2010