The Technology Behind Recycling

Technology Behind Recycling

Recycling is immensely important. The world is running out of space to safely dump plastics, metals, and glass. Ocean life is suffering, and huge swathes of it are covered in plastic that will take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Our current methods of recycling are by no means perfect, but they offer a partial solution at the very least to the crisis of accumulation that our planet faces. A great deal of specialist technology has been developed or adapted for use in the recycling industry. This article covers some of the most important types of technological innovation used in recycling.

Conveyor Systems

Conveyor systems – like those sold by – are essential pieces of the recycling puzzle. Once recyclable material is delivered to a plant, almost all of its movements are controlled via a conveyor system. Conveyor systems were first developed for use in coal mining in the early days of the 20th Century but have found many other specialist uses. Conveyors allow recycled material to be sorted and processed while it is constantly on the move. Recycling centers often use conveyors with belts made of hinged steel. This surface is far more stable than rubber or rollers and can carry unusually shaped or unusually sharp objects. Businesses that use conveyors should look to replace theirs every so often to ensure it is in great working condition.


Recycled material is awkward to store in its raw forms. Millions of pieces of uniquely shaped pieces of plastic, metal, or glass require lots of space. This is why, whenever possible, recyclable material is compressed and tied into bales using special baling machines. Balers use extremely powerful hydraulic arms to compress the material into cuboid shapes before typing these cubes together using strong wire. Bales are far easier to store and export than loose material. Bales can be stacked, loaded into containers using forklifts, and introduced into conveyor systems without much trouble at all.


The most basic definitions of artificial intelligence describe the term as a way of categorizing any computer that can make informed decisions and learn from its actions without human interference. There are many other definitions of artificial intelligence that take into account the complexity of human thought and decision-making.

What role might this emergent technology play in the recycling industry? The answer is simple: intelligent sorting. At the moment, human pickers are used to sort objects from one another in recycling plants. This job is very important, as not all materials can be recycled together and any unwanted foreign material can damage the quality of the final product.

Intelligent computers can analyze data from sensors on the picking line, make decisions about what material belongs where and then send data to robotic machines that can pick and sort far more efficiently than human beings.

Infrared Sensors

One of the sensor types that feeds data into these intelligent systems is able to read infrared light. By beaming infrared rays onto unsorted recycling and then using a sensor to send visual data to an intelligent computer, a system can detect the makeup of different kinds of plastic. Some plastic needs to be separated or chemically treated before it can be recycled.