Reducing plastic waste: who's killing it with technology in 2019?

CSR, Environmental Initiatives

The rate at which we are destroying our planet is pretty staggering. Did you know, in the last decade, the world produced more plastic than in the whole last century? And what’s worse, a whopping 91% of plastic ISN’T recycled and is littering our land and sea at a rate never seen before.

With plastic pollution rapidly on the rise, organisations are under pressure to drastically cut down or eliminate plastic use. Let’s take a look at some initiatives from organisations across the world that are using technology to help reduce plastic waste in 2019.

Lush Cosmetics

Cosmetics companies are some of the worst culprits for creating plastic waste – that’s easy to believe when you think about how many bottles of shampoo, conditioner and other products you keep in your bathroom.

Reducing plastic use is nothing new to UK handmade cosmetics company Lush, for years they have been making shampoo and other products in solid form which you can simply wrap in a small paper bag. Lush claims that they save nearly 6 million plastic bags a year doing this which is amazing, but recently they have gone one step further and opened a completely packaging-free, tech-centred store in Milan, Italy.

The Lush Lens app (developed in Tensorflow from Google) uses artificial intelligence and product recognition which allows customers forgo the need for packaging. The technology works by enabling customers to hold up a device in front of the product, which then displays information as a simple text pop-up. While this is pretty cool in itself, there are plans to look into more possibilities around immersive technologies such as augmented reality. This could provide more information about where the ingredients come from, how the products are made, who actually made each batch, and recommendations on how to get the most out of the products.

Ethics is at the forefront of Lush’s company mission and their latest initiative demonstrates their commitment to protecting our environment, and this time they’re harnessing the power of technology.

The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organisation that is developing advanced technologies to help clear as much ocean plastic waste as they can.

Experts are using the power of satellite imaging and machine learning to help clean up and capture the 5 TRILLION (!!!) pieces of plastic trash they have observed in the world’s “ocean garbage patches”, namely, the Great Pacific garbage patch which experts are now saying is much larger than they first feared.

The ocean is big and using traditional clean-up methods such as vessels and nets would take thousands of years and billions of pounds to complete, however this organisation predicts that within 5 years they could collect 50% of the ocean’s garbage.

After 5 years of research and testing, the company launched their first ocean clean up system in San Francisco Bay, kickstarting the mass cleanup.

You can find out more about The Ocean Cleanup project and the technologies used by watching the video below.



The consumer goods giant has teamed up with Dutch start-up tech company, Inoniqa, to develop a new recycling method that uses a patented magnetic catalyst to break PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate, the clear plastic used for food and water containers) down to molecular level. The liquid produced is then dried into powder form and can then be converted back into plastic that is exactly the same as ‘virgin’ plastic.

Returning the plastics back to their original building blocks allows the companies to treat pretty much any type of post-consumer PET, remove the colour of the material, clear it from contaminants and leave it food-grade ready.

The beauty of it is that this can be repeated over and over again – it can be done infinitely. The next step is all about scaling this technology up.

Unilever estimates that it will have circular PET ready for use by the third quarter of 2019. This innovative technology could potentially revolutionise plastic recycling and transform the industry on an even larger scale.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go if we want to truly solve our plastic problem, but it’s companies like these that are setting the right example by adopting new methods and leading us into a plastic-free tech-enabled future.

It’s not just plastic waste that we need to reduce to keep our planet healthy! Find out how artificial intelligence is helping us to be eco-friendly in our recent blog.

Posted by Kate Auchterlonie