Recycling Tech Is Making The Old New Again

Posted: May 16 2018, 10:50am CDT | by , in News

 
Recycling Tech Is Making the Old New Again

When we talk about recycling, most people think of piles of cans and cardboard boxes being ground down for reuse, but what happens to the rest of the waste we produce? It’s easy to repurpose single-material items, but with added complexity comes added difficulty. Luckily, new recycling tech coupled with innovative, sustainability-minded entrepreneurs and organizations are developing transformative solutions.

From scrap fabric to old computers, recycling technology is making everything old new again. So say goodbye to landfills full of fast fashion and oceans full of plastic because we have the tools to protect our planet.

Old Clothes Change Lives

The fast fashion industry – clothing made cheaply in sweatshops and meant to last a season or two – has resulted in enormous waste, with tons of clothing entering American landfills each year. In other countries, however, old clothes are typically made into something new, broken down and reinvented. So why not do that in the US? The Atlanta-based non-profit re:loom has taken on this project, providing job training and housing support to at-risk women in the community.

Part of what makes re:loom so successful is that they make quality, handmade products from rugs to messenger bags and table linens – and the project diverts about a ton of fabric from landfills each year, mostly from local community members. Thirty t-shirts become a rug, jackets and sweaters are stripped of buttons and zippers for finished products. But most importantly, the women who go through the program learn both technical and soft-skills that make them employable across a range of industries. Everyone benefits.

The Printed Page Gets A Second Life

If you’ve ever worked in an office or even just had your home printer run out of ink midway through a document, you know all about paper waste. So what do you do with all those useless pages? In offices, many of the documents are shredded for security, while at home they land in the recycling bin.

What many people don’t realize, though, is that once it’s been used, it’s not as valuable to recycling companies – white paper is a treasured resource, but colored and printed sheets are considered second-tier material. That doesn’t mean entrepreneurs and innovators don’t have a use for it, though, especially when it’s still mostly white.

At The Misprint Co, a team of young designers transform “used” paper into bespoke notebooks. The company receives papers from a range of partner organizations, as well as one-time donations. The only catch: it needs to be blank on one side and not have any sensitive information on it. So whether you have a sheet full of wingdings or a bunch of old business headers, it can become a beautiful new notebook. The designers then add custom covers – and they recently saved a single load of 500,000 pages from the landfill!

Tech’s Take Two

Of all the different materials and products, technology like computers and smart phones are among the most difficult to recycle, while also the most harmful to the environment. That’s why, in addition to addressing planned obsolescence, we also need to find ways to break down and repurpose these products.

Apple is leading the way in this effort, despite their reputation for rapid product replacement, with their new recycling robot, Daisy. Daisy can disassemble up to 200 iPhones per hour, allowing the pieces to be repurposed. But then what?

The sustainable design company Pentatonic makes their furniture from 100% post-consumer waste, and recently released a line of modular furniture using significant amounts of technology waste. This includes tables made from aluminum cans, CDs, and DVDs, as well as glassware made from old smartphone glass.

Responding to increased social pressure to reduce and divert waste, companies like Dell are also participating in waste management and recycling programs, including working to keep plastics out of the ocean. Other companies are also working with non-profits to integrate these plastics into consumer products in scalable, sustainable ways.

Not all recycling looks like a factory line; in the next few years, more innovative recycling programs are likely to emerge that change how we think about waste reduction and reuse. For now, though, the most important thing we can do is take greater advantage of the programs that are already available.

The more waste we can divert from landfills, oceans, and incinerators, the better the environment will fare in the long run.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/68" rel="author">Larry Alton</a>
Larry is an independent business consultant specializing in tech, social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

 

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