Plastic Scanner is Sustainability Winner of James Dyson Award

The Sustainability prize for the 2021 James Dyson Award is Plastic Scanner – a low-cost, handheld device to identify plastic for recycling. It was invented by Jerry de Vos from TU Delft.

The low-cost, handheld Plastic Scanner tells you on the spot what type of plastic a product is made of.

The low-cost, handheld Plastic Scanner tells you on the spot what type of plastic a product is made of.

Plastic is a lightweight, safe and readily available material which can be used to make long-lasting, durable products.

It has a bad reputation because it is often not thought to be recyclable and so ends up in landfill, or worse on the beach or in our oceans.

“It may be fashionable to demonise plastic but it is a durable and versatile material which has an important role to play. The challenge, of course, is ensuring it is reused and recycled effectively to avoid it going to landfill. Understanding how to recycle plastics correctly is complicated but Jerry has developed a very effective technology that could put this knowledge into everyone’s hands. Jerry is focussing his efforts on supporting developing countries. When I rang Jerry to deliver the news, he was travelling to Algeria to help local communities deploy recycling initiatives, his is inspiring work and I wish him every success with this potentially significant technology,” said James Dyson, Founder and Chief Engineer at Dyson.

However, with the right technologies plastics can be widely recycled successfully at end of life and transformed into new products, which themselves are long-lasting and durable.

The Problem

The challenge is identifying the plastic so that it can be recycled in the correct way, rather than sent to landfill.

The technology exists but is expensive and rare.

With greater availability of plastic identification much more plastic can be recycled and therefore used more effectively.

The Solution

The Plastic Scanner, invented by Industrial and Product Design graduate Jerry De Vos from the Netherlands, is this year’s Sustainability winner.

Plastic Scanner is a handheld device that when held against plastic will tell the user what materials it’s made from, using infrared light to detect the plastic components.

Jerry is a member of Precious Plastic, an organisation that aims to reduce plastic waste.

Through his work for the organisation he has witnessed the negative impact of plastic pollution first-hand and the bottlenecks caused when plastic is not identified and sorted in the recycling process.

“When James Dyson personally told me that I had won the Sustainability prize, I was stunned and then started to realise the impact of this win and the possibilities the Award generates. The goal of the Plastic Scanner is to build a simple, open-source device that can identify the most common types of plastic. I am so motivated after winning the James Dyson Award and it will help accelerate the development process on both the electronics, as well as the software side of the invention. By improving its quality and making it intuitive to replicate, I hope to enable anyone to identify and sort plastic properly, overcoming one of the most complex barriers to recycle plastic anywhere around the world,” said Jerry de Vos, inventor of Plastic Scanner.

Around the world, much of this process is done by hand which takes time and is prone to error. Jerry has seen successful technology used in large factories in the Netherlands where infrared reflections assist with the sorting.

This is a vital step for ensuring it is recycled properly.

Jerry’s mission has been to make this technology available for everyone around the world so they can recycle better.

The Plastic Scanner uses discrete infrared light to detect types of plastic – a new and low-cost approach to traditional infrared spectroscopy.

The Scanner is also fully open-source hardware, so anyone can assemble the breakout board and embed the electronics into a handheld device.

Open source welcomes feedback and improvements from experts, so the project will continuously improve as more people recycle plastic around the world.

Jerry learnt that much plastic entering our oceans comes from low and middle-income countries.

It is his mission to support recycling initiatives in these nations with the way he designed the low-cost and ease of use of the Plastic Scanner.

During development, Jerry interviewed recyclers from India, Indonesia, Kenya and Curacao to ensure his model was suitable for end users.

Next Steps

Jerry has gathered a team of friends specialising in embedded systems and machine learning to support his creation of new prototypes and pilot the Scanner in both industry and low resource contexts.

Long-term his goal is to make the project sustain itself, with DIY versions of the Scanner, whilst enriching Open-source documentation to make it easier for others to get involved and contribute to his mission.

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