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Plastic Scanner

An open-source design with which anybody can build a scanner that tells you what type of plastic a waste item is.

  • Introducing the Plastic Scanner!

  • 3 minute summery of the Plastic Scanner project.

    3 minute summery of the Plastic Scanner project.

  • Scanning procedure of the Plastic Scanner.

  • Example result of the Plastic Scanner.

  • Exploded view of the Plastic Scanner.

  • Kit version of the Plastic Scanner

What it does

This project aims to reduce plastic pollution drastically. How? By making the technology used in European sorting facilities available anywhere. The low-cost, handheld Plastic Scanner tells you on the spot what type of plastic a product is made of!


Your inspiration

As a member of the core-team of Precious Plastic I have experienced the negative impact of plastic pollution first hand. It struck me that identifying and sorting plastics is a major bottleneck (pun intended) in the recycling process. This step is crucial to make new, valuable items from recycled plastic. Worldwide, to a large extent plastics are sorted by hand, which is a very time-consuming process and prone to error. Large factories in Europe are able to sort plastics based on infrared reflection. It became my personal mission to make similar technology available for any recycler around the world.


How it works

Research has demonstrated that most of the plastic that enters the ocean comes from low- and middle-income countries. The most efficient way to reduce ocean plastics is therefore to bring advanced recycling technology to those countries. I propose to do that by freely sharing my design for the Plastic Scanner under the GPL-3 Open source license on WikiFactory.com. It consists of two items which make assembly and usage a breeze: an assemble-it-yourself breakout board, and instructions on how to transform it into a handheld device . The working principle of the Plastic Scanner is based on discrete infrared spectroscopy. Infrared spectroscopy is a well-known but costly technique for identifying different types of plastic. Therefore in my design for the Plastic Scanner I use a new and low-cost approach: discrete infrared spectroscopy. This method is slightly less accurate but can still identify the most common plastics.


Design process

The Plastic Scanner was my graduation project as an industrial design engineer. I got the idea while working with Precious Plastic and seeing first-hand the difficulty in sorting plastic types for recycling. Looking for possible solutions I stumbled on the open-source research project for the ReReMeter. My project set out to implement the discrete infrared spectroscopy technology of the ReReMeter into a product that can be used anywhere and is easy to build, user-friendly and widely available. Based on interviews with various informal recyclers from India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Curaçao, I developed and prototyped the first Minimal Viable Product (MVP). During several small experiments and test setups, I refined the technical functioning. Based on this and the findings from the MVP, I developed the final version of the handheld scanner.


How it is different

The Plastic Scanner sets itself apart from other plastic scanners in two ways. On the technology side, it uses discrete infrared light, as opposed to the more expensive mixed infrared spectroscopy. This results in a drastic cut in production price, making plastic identification and recycling affordable and accessible in low-income countries. Secondly, the Plastic Scanner is fully open-source hardware, making the development and functionality transparent, and allowing the implementation of suggestions from experts. It allows others to build upon the project and recycle more plastic around the world!


Future plans

Developing, prototyping, and testing the Plastic Scanner as my graduation project was just the first step. Currently, friends from embedded systems and machine learning are joining the project to create new prototypes and to do pilot projects in both industry- and low resource settings. Ultimately the goal is to make the project sustain itself in the long run. This will include selling DIY kit versions of the Plastic Scanner and enriching the amount of open-source documentation, making it easy for others to build and contribute to the project.


Awards

Finalist of the Sustainability Awards 2021


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