Top 7 Solutions to Plastic Pollution: What's the Latest Tech? 

By Tamara Davison on June 7, 2024
Top 7 Solutions to Plastic Pollution: What's the Latest Tech? 
Tamara Davison
Tamara Davison

Tamara Davison is a journalist who specializes in sustainability and the environment. Reporting from around the world, she's seen firsthand the direct impact waste is having on coastal communities and our oceans. As a diver trained in ecological monitoring, the changes Tamara has seen in marine habitats inspired her to action. She's previously written for The Guardian, The Independent and the Evening Standard. She's also produced environmental documentaries for EuroNews.

The negative fallout of plastic pollution has led to a wave of innovation in everything from plastic recycling to waste collection systems. 

Technology will play a critical role in easing our planet’s plastic crisis, unlocking solutions and services that may not have even existed a few years ago.

While there's still some way to go, it's a promising time in the green tech space. Here are some of the technologies we’re most excited about. 

Are you interested in cutting your brand’s plastic footprint? We can help. Contact our in-house team to discuss which plastic recovery plan best suits your business needs.


What’s on this page? 

01 | The top 7 solutions to plastic pollution
02 | What is the Global Plastics Treaty — and can it solve plastic pollution?
03 | The challenges of preventing plastic pollution
04 | Summary


The top 7 solutions to plastic pollution

Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), once said: “To effectively tackle the crisis of plastic pollution in our freshwater and marine ecosystems, we need innovative technologies that will serve us for years to come.”

In recent years, a lot of startups and businesses have stepped up to the challenge, launching cutting-edge technologies to address plastic waste. From track-and-trace systems to advanced recycling machines that separate materials, here are some of the most exciting developments. 

1. The Bubble Barrier

According to the OECD, around 109 million tons of plastic waste floats in rivers worldwide. Increased rain and flooding wash even more waste into our water systems, eventually flowing into the sea and breaking down into harmful microplastics

While there are many exciting developments in river cleanup systems, The Great Bubble Barrier is among the most promising. The Dutch startup has developed an innovative technology to clear plastic pollution from rivers without impacting the river's flow or surrounding wildlife. 

The concept is simple but effective: air is pumped through a tube sitting on the river bed. The air escapes through holes in the pipe and rises upward, creating a wall of bubbles that directs plastic to the surface to be collected. 

The Great Bubble Barrier was a finalist for the Earthshot Prize in 2022 and already prevents around 8,000 pieces of plastic from entering the North Sea each month. The team behind the technology estimates the system can collect at least 86% of all plastic waste that passes through it. 

The startup's founders also plan to implement their technology in Germany and Portugal next, and are setting their sights on rolling it out across Asia.


cleanhub app (1)


2. Plastic credits 

At least 2 billion people around the world don’t have access to proper waste management systems, putting them at increased risk of health problems and environmental pollution. But a new area of technology is helping address this. 

Plastic credits are digital, transferable certificates representing a specific weight of plastic waste that has been recovered or recycled. They’re a smart way to ensure the traceability of waste with technology while supporting vulnerable communities most impacted by pollution. 

Most credit systems use blockchain technology to log credit issuance, unlocking transparency throughout the waste lifecycle and holding businesses accountable. 

It’s also a technology that businesses can easily adopt without making many adjustments to their systems, meaning it can be widely implemented quickly. 



3. Track-and-trace waste recovery

Track-and-trace technology can also increase transparency in waste recovery systems. In the future, this technology could be widely adopted alongside plastic credits to ensure further accountability. 

As its name suggests, track-and-trace software can monitor waste from collection to its endpoint, giving people a clear overview of where their plastic ends up and how its dealt with. It relies on QR codes, innovative AI systems, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for traceability and transparency.

CleanHub is unique when it comes to track-and-trace technology. Our in-house system is one of the only solutions that guarantees end-to-end visibility across all stages of the waste recovery journey. We’ve also developed an intelligent app to streamline data logging, making it easier for waste collectors to track their collections and for brands to see the progress. 

Through API integration, businesses can include this live data reporting on their websites, enabling clear communication to consumers and regulators about their commitments. 

Want to know the ins and outs of CleanHub’s track-and-trace systems? Check out our guide to find out all you need to know. 

4. Microplastic removal 

Some environmental experts believe that microplastics may negatively impact the environment, wildlife, and human health

Due to the minuscule size of microplastics and nanoplastics, it’s hard to say quite how much there is of it in our natural environment. However, alarming studies have estimated that the volume of microplastics on the sea floor has tripled in just the last twenty years

Luckily, there are some promising developments in the field of microplastic removal. In early 2024, researchers at Canada’s University of Waterloo developed a method that removed 94% of microplastics from water by trapping the particles inside a porous plastic structure.  

In the study, scientists used thermal decomposition (the breakdown of substances through heat) to turn a nonrecyclable polymer called epoxy into activated carbon. They then treated the contaminated water with activated carbon, which trapped the microplastics within the porous structure of the epoxy substance. 

Other exciting developments in this area include scientists creating a 3D hydrogel (a gel substance containing liquid and polymer layers) that can absorb and degrade microplastics

Two US students recently also won funding for an ultrasound device that could potentially filter microplastics from water. While still in early development, the promising technology uses ultrasound waves to create pressure in a tube that separates microplastics from the water. 

5. Solar-powered waste gathering 

The Ocean Cleanup is another well-known non-profit creating technology to solve plastic waste. According to the organization’s research, 1,000 rivers contribute up to 80% of riverine pollution, and they decided to act. 

Ocean Cleanup developed a fleet of barges, known as Interceptors, that are powered by smart technology to collect plastic waste destined for our oceans. 

The 100% solar-powered barges automatically extract plastic from rivers with a conveyor belt, and rely on sensor data to fill several dumpsters before automatically informing local operators about collections. 

Ocean Cleanup now has 15 interceptor barges operating in eight countries like Indonesia and Jamaica — and has removed 3,000,000 kilograms (kg) of trash from rivers worldwide. 

6. AI-powered waste separation 

Automated waste separation processes that rely on robotics, artificial intelligence, and deep learning have gathered pace in recent years. 

Most standard sorting systems face operational challenges, including poor accuracy and the need for manual input. But technology is rapidly optimizing these processes and speeding up recycling abilities. 

Several companies operate in this field, like Recyleye, which uses ‘AI optical air-jet sorters’ to spot materials and separate them from mixed waste. These industrial-sized waste-sorting machines rely on smart technology and machine learning to identify recyclable materials at scale as they run through the conveyor belt system. 

In 2023, Recycleye was one of several organizations that formed a partnership called Project OMNI. This partnership created a technology that separated food-grade polypropylene plastic from household post-consumer waste.


robot collection


7. Biotech for plastic breakdown 

While most of the solutions we’ve mentioned focus on recovering plastic waste, the big question is how to deal with waste once it’s collected. But there are also technical developments here. 

Standard recycling processes are impactful to an extent, but recovering ocean plastics is complex because the materials are often degraded, so they can't always be recycled. 

While some organizations use alternative disposal methods like co-processing, the field of biotech is where things get really interesting. 

Carbios is an example of an organization working on biotech-powered recycling systems, developing methods that break down and recycle plastics with technology. 

It uses enzymatic recycling processes, which rely on enzymes to break down plastic and turn it into its original components. This means bio-recycling can break down low-quality and mixed plastic without compromising the quality of the recycled material. 


What is the Global Plastics Treaty — and can it solve plastic pollution?

In 2022, 175 nations agreed to create a global treaty to curb plastic pollution. If everything goes to plan, they will implement it in 2025.

The treaty is a collection of legally binding agreements for businesses, individuals, and governments that establish the next steps to solving the planet’s plastic crisis.  

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, it’s “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end plastics pollution.”

Some of the treaty’s primary goals include sweeping efforts to phase out unnecessary plastic products that lead to pollution, and redesigning plastic products to cut material use. 

Advocates have also proposed plans to introduce national-level Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes and support national transitions from single-use plastic materials. 

But will this solve the plastic pollution crisis? 

While the UN treaty is a big step in the right direction, negotiators are still working on it. So, it’s hard to tell what the finalized agreement will look like, or what limitations will be imposed on participating nations. 

According to GreenBiz, there’s also an uphill battle against powerful lobbyists in the oil and petrochemical industry, who may try to water down the treaty's obligations. The outlet predicts that the UN’s next meeting in November 2024 won’t produce an impactful plan.



The challenges of preventing plastic pollution

Solving the planet’s plastic crisis won’t happen overnight — but we are hopeful that we can reach this goal over time. 

The reality is there are still a lot of challenges in addressing plastic pollution and limitations to technological advancements in this field. Some of the biggest obstacles include: 

  • Recycling processes face complexities, due to certain materials and mixed components
  • Degradation of ocean-based plastic means some waste can’t be recycled 
  • Plastic pollution technologies are sometimes hard to scale 
  • Pro-plastic lobbying continues to shape some government discourse on pollution 
  • Some companies continue to neglect their role in post-consumer waste 



A global, systemic change in how we rely on plastic will take time, investments, and a multifaceted approach.

We know there’s a long way to go, but technological advancements continue to gather momentum — and that’s something to be hopeful about. 

Thanks to recent developments in plastic pollution technology, we can accelerate efforts to clean up our planet and make a difference. 

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