Next-gen recycling technologies tackle the issue of downcycling

As young people continue their race to zero waste in their lives, they are looking to new technologies to save our planet from the crisis presented by climate change. While many who participate in recycling think their waste is being completely reused for new products, many plastics end up being downcycled and turned into items of lesser quality. To combat this issue, tech companies are finding ways to make recycling more efficient to maintain the quality of a plastic every time it’s recycled.


French start-up Carbios has developed a recycling process that allows any type of plastic to be recycled into other types of plastic. What sets this “biorecycling” process apart from other forms of recycling is that it doesn’t degrade the quality of the new product, despite being formulated from other plastics. This means that 100% of an item of plastic is recycled into a new product. Carbios is joining forces with industry powerhouses like Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Suntory Food and Beverage to find ways to implement such recycling technologies in large corporations’ product development processes.


Many products that claim they can be recycled are made of a plastic called polypropylene—a material that traditionally can only be “downcycled” and made into a lesser form of plastic. PureCycle Technologies is a company that has found a way to recycle this type of plastic into a higher quality plastic that could subsequently be recycled into a water bottle, or another form of packaging. The recycling company recently opened a plant in Ohio to take on all of the unwanted polypropylene and turn it into a clear plastic that brands will want to purchase to turn into something new.


Denver-based AMP Robotics recently closed a $16 million Series A investment round to boost overall growth and expand manufacturing capacity for the company’s recycling robots, which can sort and determine recyclable items twice as fast as humans. These robots can be added to sorting assembly lines to distinguish recyclables from materials like plastics, cartons, fibers, and metals. Not only do these robots lower costs, they also sort high-value recyclables faster and can even determine branded packaging (i.e. the difference between a Pepsi or Coke can) to help companies improve their products for optimal recyclability.