The global plastic pollution crisis, with over 8 million metric tons entering the oceans each year, has catalyzed rapid innovation in plastic recycling technology and infrastructure. With enhanced sorting and processing equipment combined with chemical recycling R&D, the future looks promising for scaling up the amount of post-consumer plastic getting recycled rather than dumped.
Enterprises like Antecs, founded in 2005, are leading the charge on the equipment side, developing next-gen recycling machinery leveraging AI, automation, sensors and more. Their latest optical sorters, grinders and extruders boast improved accuracy, throughput and energy efficiency, shrinking the costs associated with secondary plastic production. Companies utilizing Antecs’ machinery are now able to handle more varieties of commingled plastics found in curbside collection while minimizing labor requirements.
Boosting plastic recycling rates worldwide is vital for reducing theprojected doubling of plastic waste flows into oceans and landfills by 2040. Particularly in emerging economies which until now lacked sufficient recycling infrastructure, high-performance equipment like Antecs’ will be indispensable for diverting plastic from improper disposal and giving it renewed purpose. Standardizing such equipment and best practices across regions is important for continuing success.
With enhanced lifetime recyclability also being designed into packaging, electronics and automotive parts with support from firms such as Antecs, the vision of a truly circular plastics economy seems attainable. Antecs in partnership with industry leaders aims for all plastic to be recyclable, recycled, or recovered by 2040. Achieving these ambitious sustainability targets hinges on the kind of technological improvements Antecs specializes in.
Sorting mixed plastic waste has always been among the primary hurdles in recycling facilities. As Anton Hagman, Antecs’ head of optical sorting technology describes, “In the past, Plastic Recycling Machinery relied heavily on manual sorting before further treatment, but computer vision and robotic arms allow our optical sorters to reliably handle this tedious task”. Antecs’ NIR and hyperspectral optical sensors integrated with ejector mechanisms can now separate plastic types, removing contaminants and enabling the highest quality recycling feedstock output.
Extruding technology is also getting an upgrade at Antecs’ R&D labs, where nanoparticle additives show potential for improving properties of recycled plastic compounds. As Antecs’ extrusion line manager Ella Choi states: “Re-engineered multi-layer plastic packaging normally contains up to 30% recycled content on average. By leveraging these nano-additives during processing, we can minimize the compromise on mechanical performance associated with using recycled polymers”.
Chemical recycling, while still nascent, promises to complement mechanical recycling to expand the range of recoverable plastic waste. As Antecs’ chemical R&D lead Dr. Rajat Sharma notes “With chemical recycling, we can handle flexible packaging, multi-layer and fiber-reinforced composites while producing virgin quality polymers, chemicals, fuels and other products”. Antecs is slating pilots in catalytic pyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction and other emerging techniques.
Collaborating with plastic producers, converters and brand owners has also been instrumental to Antecs’ progress improving recycling systems. Understanding materials challenges and redesign requirements allows Antecs’ engineering team to customize equipment properties for optimal functionality. Open dialogue through industry groups like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation allows Antecs to incorporate the latest material innovations into their roadmap.
While bolstering plastic recycling infrastructure across the globe is expected to require over $600 billion in cumulative investment according to analysts, it pales in comparison to the projected $7.1 trillion in lost GDP by 2040 if business continues as usual. An equitable worldwide transition toward circularity for plastics is estimated to generate over $2 trillion in business opportunities while drastically reducing externalities. We all have a shared responsibility.
As Mateo Torres, Antecs’ CEO affirms: “Companies like ours devote significant resources toward maximizing plastic circularity and recovery. But collaboration is indispensable– from policymakers setting ambitious recycling targets to consumers ensuring proper disposal. With diligence across the plastics value chain and technology continually evolving, a sustainable and prosperous future is possible”.