Plastic Scanner to Improve Recycling in Low-Income Countries
A student from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has developed an open-source, handheld scanning device that instantly identifies whether a plastic is suitable for recycling. The innovation, which has won the James Dyson Sustainability Award 2021, could help improve recycling efforts in lower-income countries.
The Plastic Scanner, by Jerry de Vos, uses near-infrared spectroscopy to detect and categorise different plastic polymers, allowing users to determine the type and recyclability of a material. This technology is already used by many large European sorting facilities and can identify over 75% of all plastic used in everyday life. But elsewhere, plastic sorting for recycling is widely done by hand – a timely and error-prone process that often leads to plastics being sent to landfill.
The scanner could help rectify this by making the technology widely available, particularly to recyclers in countries with poor waste management systems. To further its accessibility, the device benefits from an easy-to-build and open-source design, filed with a GNU General Public license v3, meaning anyone can construct the simple breakout board and transform it into a handheld device.
De Vos is now piloting the scanner in both industry and low-resource contexts, with a long-term view for the project to become self-sufficient with enhanced open-source documentation.
With the scale of global plastic pollution becoming increasingly distressing – see Pandemic Worsens Ocean Plastic Pollution Crisis for recent developments – improved recycling efforts are paramount. We highlight the latest revolutionary technologies and recycling systems in The Plastic Landscape 2021, and an innovative at-home recycling appliance on The Brief.
Despite the negative discourse, plastic waste is a huge, valuable resource that needs to be capitalised on further. Read our A/W 23/24 and S/S 23 Materials Evolutions to see how progressive designers and brands are addressing the plastic pollution problem.