Artificial Intelligence has not only taken over various industries but is now also finding its way into the U.S. recycling industry, making the task of sorting trash much faster and easier.
What do AI-powered robots do?
New trash-sorting robots working alongside humans at recycling centers have become more efficient at separating recyclables from trash streams, thus keeping them out of landfills.
With their AI-driven optical technology, these robots can also provide real-time data about waste stream contaminants.
How does the AI technology work?
Robots use AI technology to pick out recyclables by spotting patterns and features that distinguish materials from the waste stream.
“It’s like a vacuum cleaner,” Matt Fletcher, a recycling market development specialist at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, told Axios. “It knows what to pick up as things are coming across the conveyor belt. It’s reading the optical signature of whether it’s a yogurt tub, water bottle, paper bag, or a milk carton.”
How can this fix recycling issues?
Ninety-one percent of plastic on the planet is not recycled and ends up in landfills. Every year, 90 million tons of recyclable products are thrown away in America. The U.S. recycles only 32% of municipal solid waste.
Waste segregation makes it easier to recycle products. It reduces the environmental impacts on the Earth while reducing landfills, and using AI technology could potentially help correct human shortcomings in recycling issues.
When people do not separate trash or do not understand how to segregate their waste, using this technology can divert trash from landfills, resulting in more recyclables and less waste.
Matanya Horowitz, the founder of AMP Robotics, told Axios that compared to a person’s 40 picks per minute, the company’s robots can pick 80 different recyclables per minute, making the mundane job much faster and more efficient.
The data collected from the robots could also be used to help manufacturers make more informed decisions in designing recycling-friendly products.
Many companies other than AMP Robotics, such as Glacier, Machinex, or CleanRobotics, have introduced various AI-operated robots for separating recyclable waste. Many robots have a rate of over 90% accuracy at distinguishing different materials.
While the technology is still in its early phase of development, companies are fashioning designed-from-scratch robots that can identify recyclable items from a moving conveyor belt and sort them into their correct place.
The technology is far from perfect, but an important achievement to improve recycling systems across the country.
“Our real goal is to reduce the cost of sorting these materials as well as increasing their value,” Horowitz told Axios.
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