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4IR tech is a game-changer in recycling and reforestation

The next UJ Cloudebate will discuss the huge impact of drones and tracing technology on climate change efforts

11 July 2022 - 11:13
4IR tech can increase the effectiveness of recycling and reforestation to help alleviate climate change. Picture: SUPPLIED/UNIVERSITY OF JOHANNESBURG
4IR tech can increase the effectiveness of recycling and reforestation to help alleviate climate change. Picture: SUPPLIED/UNIVERSITY OF JOHANNESBURG

Re-use and reintroduction are strategies that can negate the negative effects of climate change. Recycling and reforestation are important ways in which the warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions can be lessened.

Two major challenges in economic recycling, however, are the cost and effort required to physically collect waste and sort it into categories of materials such as plastics, metal and paper.

Efficient recycling requires sorted materials for processing. In addition, without appropriate tracking, the process is opaque, difficult to measure and hard to report.

Now, fourth industrial revolution technology (4IR tech) such as blockchain and innovative trackability can help. These technologies will be the focus of an informative University of Johannesburg (UJ) Cloudebate on July 13 at 6pm.

New 4IR tech for tracking and tracing benefits recycling

In 2021, BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, introduced a pilot project in Canada that uses advanced 4IR tech to “improve circular economy and traceability of recycled plastics”. The company’s new reciChain technology helps with sorting, traceability and transparency in the process.

According to the European parliament, the circular economy is “a model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible”.

In this way, the life cycle of products is extended. Implementing this model provides the most appropriate way to alleviate climate change through economical recycling.

BASF’s reciChain platform aims to move the economy from a linear to a circular one by combining the power of blockchain with a digital badge and loop count tech that enables secure sharing of data among market participants. It also improves the sorting, tracing and monitoring of plastics throughout the value chain. 

“The result is a more competitive circular supply chain rather than a linear one, extending the life cycle of plastics.

“Due to the increased transparency reciChain provides, it can offer better assurance to brand owners of the validity of the certificates they purchase from recyclers and converters.”

This example shows that one of the solutions for effective and efficient recycling of plastics is to use technology to increase the value of recycling for all participants in the economy. When it pays to recycle, through efficiencies and transparency enhanced by 4IR tech, it becomes an integral part of economic activity. 

Reforestation: There’s a drone for that

Drones, or technically UASs (unmanned aircraft systems), also sometimes called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent a fast-growing and effective manifestation of 4IR tech in the physical world - especially agriculture. All the elements that culminate in making these remote-controlled aerial vehicles possible have their origin in new technology - from design and manufacturing to control and functionality.

Drones can reforest the planet faster than humans can

One of the many uses of drones is reforestation. DroneSeed is a US company in Seattle that specialises in hi-tech drone reforestation technology capable of planting seeds six times faster than a human. Another drone reforestation company is the Canadian firm Flash Forest, which specialises in drone reforestation for the recovery of forests damaged by wildfires.

Though drone seeding can deliver huge seed payloads quickly, successful planting from the sky also depends on the seeds, as a variety of factors can affect the initial germination rate from the dropped pods. Seeds must be pre-prepared for effectiveness once drone-planted. That’s why DroneSeed bought seed company Silvaseed to improve seed effectiveness and increase seed availability for use by large aerial planting projects.

According to the article “Drones Can Reforest the Planet Faster Than Humans Can”, published by Forbes on September 30 2020, “we haven’t been very successful in reforestation using humans alone, it’s just too slow. Having the hard labour done by a drone accelerates the pace of reforestation by at least 10 times over having humans do the work. Two humans could potentially direct 10 of these drones, so the pace can be geometrically accelerated.”

This means the most effective answer to rapid reforestation is likely to be reseeding from the sky using 4IR tech.

In SA, drones are playing a crucial role in efficient agriculture and farming. KwaZulu-Natal-based company PACSys is a farmer-owned organisation that specialises in drone-based crop spraying. It was established in 2016 to research, develop and distribute agricultural technologies tailored to increase farming efficiencies and profits at all levels.

As these examples show, by using new technologies in recycling and reforestation efforts, they enter the mainstream to become widely used throughout industries. These efforts can help alleviate climate change, effectively and economically.

Visit uj.ac.za/4ir to register for the next UJ Cloudebate.

This article was paid for by the University of Johannesburg.