Recycling facilities use robotic sorting stations and object-recognition technology to identify and put garbage in its proper place.
Filled with intricate mazes of high-speed conveyor belts carrying yesterday’s garbage, high-tech recycling centers use sophisticated sensors to sort plastic from paper from aluminum. While this technology may streamline sorting, it’s not smart or nimble enough to finish the job.
Behind the scenes, recycling workers continue to sort the materials, making sure cereal boxes don’t mix with soda cans. And because this isn’t just a dirty job, but a mind-numbingly tedious one, there’s particularly high turnover at modern recycling centers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the future of smart recycling is looking brighter. Spider-like robotic arms, guided by cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) — think of it as facial-recognition technology for garbage — are helping to make municipal recycling facilities (MRFs) run more efficiently.
“I think the way we move waste recovery forward is by creating new, innovative ways to process material,” said Thomas Brooks, director of technology for Bulk Handling Systems (BHS), which produces the Max-AI robotic sorter. “That is how we’ll get others involved, and how we’ll get more material recycled.”
Through deep learning technology, robotic sorters use a vision system to see the material, AI to think and identify each item, and a robotic arm to pick up specific items. This new technology is a critical piece in making recycling systems more profitable, said Brooks.