AI and Recycling
Everyone contributes to the global problem of waste management. Recycling has been presented as a solution to this problem since the 1970s, emphasizing the importance of separating plastic bottles, cans, cartons, and newspapers. However, we have not adequately addressed the challenge of waste management. Only 16% of the 2.1 billion tons of solid waste generated each year globally is recycled.
Why Recycling is a Problem Today
Recycling can be a problem today for the following reasons:
People often throw non-recyclable items in the recycling bins, which can contaminate the recycling stream and reduce the quality of recycled materials.
- Lack of education and awareness.
Many people do not understand the importance of recycling, what can be recycled, and how to recycle properly. This can result in recyclable materials being thrown away or placed in the wrong bin.
- Limited infrastructure.
Not all countries and cities have access to recycling facilities, and even those that do, the infrastructure may not be sufficient to handle the volume of materials that need to be recycled.
- Market demand.
Demand for recycled materials may be low, and recyclers may not be able to sell their materials, resulting in them being stockpiled or sent to landfills.
Recycling can be expensive, especially if the waste is sent to landfills. This can make it difficult for recycling programs to be sustainable without government subsidies or incentives.
While recycling is an important part of waste management, many challenges must be overcome to make it more effective.
7 ways AI can help to solve recycling issues
AI can play a critical role in reducing the environmental impact of waste management. Here are 7 use cases for AI in recycling:
1. Waste Sorting.
AI can be used to sort waste materials by using computer vision and machine learning algorithms to analyze images of waste and sort them by composition.
AMP Robotics, for example, has developed a robot for sorting waste. This robot uses artificial intelligence to identify and retrieve recyclable materials from conveyor belts at facilities that process mixed waste, construction and demolition waste, and e-waste. The technology uses machine learning to capture the different types of materials identified, and operational data is collected and analyzed on a web-based platform using charts.
2. Recycling Optimization.
AI can optimize the recycling process by analyzing data from sensors and other sources to identify inefficiencies, suggest changes to improve recycling rates, and automate various parts of the process.
For example, Recycleye, a UK-based startup, uses computer vision and machine learning algorithms to identify and sort waste materials. Their technology can be used to optimize recycling processes by analyzing data from sensors and cameras to identify inefficiencies and suggest changes to improve recycling rates.
3. Predictive Maintenance.
AI can be used to predict when recycling equipment is likely to fail so that maintenance can be planned proactively, minimizing downtime and reducing repair costs.
Dingo, for example, is an Australian company that provides predictive maintenance solutions for various industries, including waste management and recycling. The company’s AI-powered platform analyzes sensor data from assets and predicts when maintenance is needed to avoid downtime and reduce costs
4. Smart Bins.
Using AI technology, smart bins can be monitored to optimize their collection routes, reducing the number of collection vehicles on the road and thus reducing emissions. One such company, SmartBin, based in Ireland, specializes in providing advanced waste management solutions to municipalities and businesses.
Their technology includes smart bins that use sensors to monitor waste volumes and AI algorithms to optimize collection routes for more efficient waste disposal.
5. Waste Management Analytics.
Analyzing waste management data using AI can reveal opportunities for improvement and optimization. US-based Rubicon uses an AI-powered platform to analyze waste management data, including recycling rates, waste volumes, and disposal costs, to identify areas for improvement and optimization.
6. Sustainability Reporting.
Companies can use AI to automate data collection and analysis of their sustainability efforts, particularly in the areas of waste reduction and recycling, and track their progress through the reports they produce. GreenQ offers an AI-powered software platform that collects and analyzes data on sustainability efforts, including waste reduction and recycling, across multiple sources such as IoT sensors. This platform enables automated data collection and generates comprehensive reports on waste management and sustainability performance, helping organizations track their progress and identify opportunities for improvement in their sustainability initiatives.
7. Public Education.
The potential of AI also extends to the development of interactive educational tools such as simulations and games that can educate people about the importance of recycling and encourage them to adopt more sustainable behaviors. MobiDev is a company that has developed an AI-based recycling app that provides real-time recommendations on how to separate waste. Using computer vision and machine learning algorithms, the app can identify different types of waste and provide information on how to dispose of it properly. This approach simplifies waste management and encourages more frequent recycling, reducing the amount of waste that ends up polluting oceans and landfills.
The integration of AI, computer vision, and machine learning is already ubiquitous in our everyday lives. These technologies are being used by businesses to encourage sustainable behaviors and by individuals to reduce their energy consumption. There is great potential for technologies to help protect the environment. However, the greatest environmental and financial benefits of using AI technology can be achieved in industrial waste management. Therefore, the development of AI-assisted waste sorting systems is a crucial step towards improving the sustainability of our planet.