The first synthetic plastic was produced in 1907. After 1950’s, the annual production of plastics has increased nearly 200-fold to 381 million tons. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. In 2025, the annual input is estimated to be about twice greater.1
Our only problem isn’t just the breathtaking amount of plastic everywhere and the fact that it takes so much time to decompose that it’s around for basically forever – it is also extremely toxic for the environment and its inhabitants.
What makes things even harder, plastic is not all bad – in some cases, it has also been proved to be highly useful. It is waterproof, resistant, versatile and lightweight. In the right hands, it can be even used as a tool for waste management: plastic has played a key role in, for example, food safety and packaging, preventing food loss and thus futile greenhouse gas emissions.2
It’s safe to say we will never get rid of plastic completely. This is why it needs to be repurposed effectively and companies as well as communities should strive towards a complete circular economy of plastic.
Head Recycle Systems to the rescue
As the demand for recycled materials varies and consumers are generally confused about what is recyclable, the collection of waste is often difficult, expensive and ineffective. For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled in the U.S.
Finnish company Head Recycle Systems (HRS) is aiming to solve these problems through intelligent automated sorting systems at the beginning stages of the plastic repurposing process. The company has developed a solution that can be mounted into sorting bins at regular apartment buildings. Head Recycle Systems’ CEO Johnny Pehkonen (M. Sc, Mechanical Engineering) is one of the two founders of the company with his business partner and HRS’ Chairman of the Board Veikko Lesonen, a known developer and innovator of advanced technology solutions.
Plastic has been a part of Pehkonen’s career for many years. He has previously worked at the beginning stages of plastic’s lifecycle, developing solutions for producing plastic more efficiently. A long career in the field of technology both in China and Finland has led his way towards sustainability and creating efficient business solutions for circular economy.
It’s no surprise that this solution has been invented in Finland, as Finland has one of the highest recycling rates in the world. When plastic is concerned, even a high recycling rate is not enough, as recycled plastic can still end up in landfills. For example, industrial waste from insulators has to be transformed back into pure polyethylene polymers and baled into a standard cube-sized, tight package. After this, the materials have a renewed market value and can be used anywhere in the world and transformed into new packaging materials, car parts or insulators. This is an efficient way of making sure that the utilization rate of plastic will get high enough and plastic won’t end up in landfills. Industrial plastic waste is easier to recycle than waste from households, which is mostly made up of different kinds of plastic as well as has varying levels of quality.
“It has now become quite clear that the world needs more solutions for dealing with what happens after we throw plastic away. Our main goal at Head Recycle Systems is to automate many vital functions in recycling and circular economy to make the process of repurposing plastic more efficient and cost-effective”, Pehkonen says.
A key factor in this process is the proper analysis of waste and its material content as early as possible. The plastic analyzer for trash bins is HRS’s first complete solution and has been integrated with many forerunner technologies, such as NIRONE Sensors provided by Spectral Engines.
Saving resources every step of the way
Even though the solution will serve regular people and their needs for more efficient recycling, it will also significantly help the logistics of waste management. “Our solution recognizes all different types of plastic and makes it possible to sort waste types based on customer needs. The plastics that are cost-effective and easy to refine will then end up in the right place for repurposing immediately, not after a lot of manual labor or through trial and error. Our solution packs plastic eight times tighter than normal trash bins and sorts out the most valuable parts. This will minimize the need for sorting truck visits, saving both time, money and resources.”
The first pilots will be installed in November to the first trash cans of regular apartment buildings in Northern Finland. “After the first pilots we’ll hopefully expand to grocery stores. After this, we’ll start moving towards agricultural and construction sites internationally, mainly in central Europe and Asia”, Pehkonen confirms. “Our first customers are construction companies, whose feedback has been mainly positive. They feel that our solution is definitely something that has been missing from recycling points and it directly affects the market value of apartments and buildings.”
Circular economy calls for strong collaborations
Head Recycle Systems’ collaboration with Spectral Engines started from a mutual interest towards circular economy and a shared understanding about using NIR technology for expanded business opportunities. NIR technology is known to be an efficient tool for solving many global problems and this is one of the reasons why NIRONE Sensors have now been integrated into HRS’s solution. The sensors are also scalable and can be produced in nearly any quantity, which makes them very cost-effective.
“NIR-technology works well in these kinds of applications. We were comparing different options and solution providers and the main differentiating factor about Spectral Engines was the constant support and help from their experts”, Pehkonen says. “We have good knowledge in robotics and the expertise to combine automation technologies with software. We were looking for a platform that can be customized to our specific needs and working with Spectral Engines has provided just that. Our concept is developing further as we go along and find new ways to utilize our solution in different environments. Spectral Engines’ sensors have now been proved to be a great fit when modifications and customizations are needed. We are also happy to say that we have been able to communicate our needs and concerns and gotten the support we’ve needed from Spectral Engines.”
This will be the first but definitely not the last solution that HRS will bring to the market to help circular economy. “There are so many problems with plastic and recycling in general, especially in developing countries, who are just beginning to use plastic more and more. Developing affordable and effective tools for big masses is definitely one of our major goals”, Pehkonen concludes.
1Science, February 2015, UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS)
2 Marsh, K., & Bugusu, B. (2007). Food packaging—roles, materials, and environmental issues. Journal of Food Science, 72(3), R39-R55.
Head Recycle Systems changes plastic from a threat to an opportunity. The company’s founders and core team have over 20 years of experience from electronics and automation industry (e.g. JOT Automation and Proventia). Their mission is to develop technologies that process waste back into a valuable raw material.
Spectral Engines develops and produces groundbreaking smart material sensing technology, which can measure the very make-up of materials. Their technology platforms enable new measurement applications and business opportunities. Spectral Engines’ technologies originate from years of research done at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.