The global recycling market continues to grow. It's predicted to reach £30bn by 2020 (from £18bn in 2015).

However, despite a focus on recycling in countries such as the UK the true value of recyclable materials is not being realised. Cross-contamination of plastics and dirty packaging means that over half of the items going into the recycling bin aren't recycled.

The waste industry has become a fantastic, efficient high-volume throughput industry ‒ removing your waste quickly, hygienically, regularly and making it an efficient and cheap alternative to a failed high-cost recycling system. Long-term, however, the recycling industry needs to transition from a high-volume throughput industry to one focusing on high-purity.

Recyclable materials are very valuable in their pure state but the difficulty and cost of separating mixed recycling make it uneconomical. As there is mounting public and government pressure, change is needed to reduce the huge percentage of used packaging and products ending up in a landfill.

Aiming for 100% Closed-loop Recycling

Today, when used-materials are recycled they're often made into ‘lesser' products. A plastic bottle, for example, may be processed into packing materials which are then end up in landfill. So, even when recycling does happen, it may only delay the inevitable.

A truly green initiative, however, would be to move towards a 100% closed-loop recycling system. That is, a system where a recyclable product is transformed back into its original form. A plastic container would be remade into a plastic container or an item of equal value many times before its disposed of. A closed-loop recycling process would ensure we get the maximum amount of use from any material, reducing the amount that ends up in landfill.

Separating mixed plastics, however, is difficult and expensive even on an industrial scale and even a small amount of the wrong type of plastic can cause an entire batch to become contaminated. Just .05 kg of PVC plastic within 1,000 kg of PET flakes can cause it to become brittle and yellowish in colour.

Education has helped the situation up to a point. People are more familiar with recycling practices than ever, yet the majority are still confused about which items can be recycled.

As such, the contamination issue has, to-date, been insurmountable for the recycling industry. So, while I think that in the next 20 years we will have a 100% closed-loop recycling system, there are a number of other technologies and processes that need to be implemented before closed-loop recycling is achievable. These will empower consumers while developing the capabilities of the de-manufacturing economy.

De-Manufacturing Economy

We predict that within 10 years, the businesses of the world, starting with the fast moving consumer goods companies, will be able to deliver on their extended producer responsibility (EPR).

This means that all product prices will include the environmental costs of used-packaging being sent to landfill. If the product's used-packaging is identified and closed-loop recycled the EPR will be delivered. EPR will incentivise more sustainable production practices, product longevity and maximise close-loop recyclability. This technology will both identify the packaging and via closed-loop recycling deliver EPR. Once operating, EPR legislation can be enacted.

Within 20 years, we predict that there will be a closed-loop recyclability index (CLR) displayed on every product, indicating both the sustainability of the manufacturing process and the cash value of the packaging once recycled. Just like ingredient contents in food, the CLR will influence a consumer's purchasing decision and educating on what can or cannot be de-manufactured.

All this will drive change in consumer purchasing behaviours, promote the growth of the de-manufacturing industry, and help to reduce de-manufacturing costs.

People Power

One of the most impressive things about the green revolution of the past 10-20 years is the rapid rate at which the general public has become educated on environmental issues. People are now more aware than ever about the effect their waste has on the environment and innovative new technologies are offering solutions to key environmental challenges.

However, recent documentaries, such as the BBC's Blue Planet II, have demonstrated just how far we still have to go when it comes to recycling. Many people now no longer trust curbside collection and are feeling paralysed about what else they can do.

The simple answer is to let the public take a more active part in the recycling process. Instead of confusedly separating items and hoping for the best, consumers should be empowered to guarantee 100% correct segregation of different plastics, for example, and ensure they are delivered to manufacturers in a pure form, ready for closed-loop recycling.

In fact, by delivering high-purity materials back to manufacturers, consumers could benefit directly from the high value of these materials. Government schemes encouraging the purchase of recycled materials will assist further.

This is where technological innovations, like ReCircle, will play a major role. ReCircle is an appliance for home or business that will use a sensor to identify and guarantee the correct separation of different plastic, glass, metal, etc. The appliance will then wash and grind the materials for separate storage in the base. The high-purity materials are then picked up and the consumer reimbursed for the weight of recycled materials.

In 20 years, every individual, business, hospital, factory, building site, bar and restaurant, education institute, airport and any other venue in the world will take responsibility for the separation and cleaning of their recyclable material. On an individual level, required purity then becomes easily achievable, allowing the industry to benefit from valuable, high-purity closed-loop recyclable materials.

Innovations in Tech

A number of existing technologies will be re-engineered to help both industrial and consumer recyclers. We predict that these technologies will focus on improving the ease and affordability of high-purity recycling.

The first and arguably most important innovation will be a further and continuing reduction in the cost and size of material sensors. Currently, sensors are relatively expensive because they can sense multiple substances. Exception sensors, detecting one substance only, will be smaller and when mass-produced much cheaper.

Next, we need to reduce the size of the grinding, granulating and compacting equipment. Smaller equipment means more compact appliances allowing consumers to process their recycling in their own home or business.

With closed-loop recycling at home, the current efficient home delivery and pick-up services will be adapted to include bespoke equipment that will individually empty and weight each of the separately stored recycled products. On-demand home pick-up services improved due to technology and logistic systems developed by companies like Uber and Amazon will delivered lower costs and therefore greater value to closed-loop recycled products.

The changes described here means that we will see a strong contribution from recycling in the future.