• Gary Robinson

Synaptic Connections Newsletter 2019 Week#32

August 5, 2019 www.Synapticpackaging.com Image - 'The Journey Ahead', Hiking out of the Grand Canyon

Week#32 of 2019

Good morning!  I hope you had a nice weekend.  Last week in Synaptic Connections, we focused on the importance of obtaining a clean recycling stream without contaminates.  We took a look at how contaminates influence the economics of recycling, and play a critical role to realize the vision of a closed-loop model.  We further expanded on how the economics of recycling today are severely distressed due to global trade restrictions.  Isolated, these can certainly be intimidating topics.  We hold to the fact that these challenges highlight realities that have long existed, and the broader awareness of these challenges generates incentive for innovation to ReThink Waste.

Today, we are going to continue the focus on opportunities to reduce contaminates.  As we explored last week, contaminates are the central axis for the economics of a closed-loop system.  Without getting off topic, it is important to bring an adjacency into this discussion - that is organic recycling.  Organic recycling ties in with food waste, agriculture waste, yard waste, farm waste, etc. and uses technologies such as composting and anaerobic digestion.  This field of recycling is also subject to the economic challenges of contaminates.

The first step to eliminating contaminates is for brands to design packaging with the end-in-mind.  That means building systems with materials that can be fully recycled, or composted, into high-valued end products without degrading the quality of the recycling stream.  This is always a challenge with the human factor and needs to be simplified as much as possible.

People are people.  As much as we would like to depend on people to do intelligent separation and sorting, the reality is that packaging passes through their hands in a fleeting moment, amongst all of the distractions of life.  As engineers and designers of systems, we need to consider the human factor and seek to Poke-yoke the solution as much as possible to ensure the product is recycled.  Let's take a look at some of the emerging technologies that can help eliminate contaminates.

For years, recycling has been done through mechanical separation.  This uses a rather ingenious sequencing of different tests to identify a material composition across a diverse stream.  Tests include things like blowing air to separate light items like bags, breaking glass so that it falls through a screen, using magnets to pull out steel, and using float tanks to density separate plastics.  

As we look forward, advanced innovations are emerging to use robotics to create highly autonomous recycling facilities.  The adoption and advancement in robotic sorting technology looks very promising.  The 'spider' style robot can now be placed over-top a conveyor with a highly diverse recycle stream beneath.  Integrated with new sensing and learning technologies, it can rapidly identify, select, and extract targeted items.  Much of the success for these autonomous systems come from the supporting technologies such as....

  • Vision systems

  • Chemical scanning sensors

  • Marking technologies

  • Imaging spectrometers

  • Geometric object mapping

  • AI and machine learning

These emerging technologies show great potential to help improve both the efficiency and cost of reducing contaminates.  As contaminates are reduced, the value of the waste stream goes up.  As brands start to utilize more Post Consumer Recycled materials, then the economics of the closed-loop model have the opportunity to stabilize.  Further, these technologies are data driven with the ability to collect discrete metrics.  As we will discuss in our future segment on Big Data Convergence, these metrics can be very valuable.

If your company would like to learn more about these technologies, or be an early adopter, then reach out to us and we would enjoy the opportunity to help you build solutions.  Have a great week!

Packaging Sustainability//

ReThink Waste//

Emerging Energy//

The purpose of this newsletter is to stimulate innovative thoughts and constructive dialogue through the lens of sustainability.  New subscribers can send an e-mail to the link below to sign-up. 

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