Artificial Intelligence and Robotization in Waste Sorting Centers as an Alternative to Brown Bins

By | 2017-09-26

Waste is a major issue in the world. Every year, about one third of the world’s food – nearly 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted, according to the World Bank. Until 2025, this number could reach 2.2 billion tons. Additionally, only 14% of the plastic materials is recycled around the world. However, the evolution of intelligent recycling centers seems to offer a solution.

In the residual materials sector, the rapid development of artificial intelligence and robotization now makes it possible to replace the manual waste sorting efficiently and cost-effectively. The robotic waste sorting provides an operational versatility that the optical waste sorting does not offer.

Leading up to 2022, in Quebec and several other cities, organic materials will be banned from landfills. While some Quebec municipalities opt for the brown bin, a company from Trois-Rivières (Quebec) has developed a revolutionary waste sorting solution using robotization.

Waste Robotics: an intelligent robot for waste sorting

On September 20 2017, at the Management of Residual Materials Conference in Trois-Rivières (Quebec), Éric Camirand, Technical Director of Waste Robotics, gave a presentation on economics and operational impact that intelligent robotization can have on the Quebec recycling industry.

In 2016, the company Waste Robotics launched the first version of its robot, specialized in the residual material sorting. With cameras and a mechanical arm, the robot analyzes the various types of waste on the conveyor and separates it in order to send sorted waste to valorisation (composting or biomethanisation). This system is an alternative that saves a lot of money for municipalities. “By 2022, we will no longer have the right to bury organic matter. Many municipalities then opt for brown bins to pick them up. However, it involves more trucks to collect and a big investment to buy them, ” explains Éric Camirand.

The robot has the ability to sort for 8,000 hours per year, compared to 1000 hours for humans. “We are replacing this hard-to-find workforce with robots and significantly reducing the operating costs of a sorting center,” adds Éric Camirand.

Robotic Organics Extraction

Waste Robotics

Application: Mixed waste color bag extraction

Processing capacity:  10 tonnes MSW/hour

Extraction speed: 1200 picks/hour (0 to 5 kg color bags) 4-7t/hr

Footprint: Four (4) legged robot attached to manual sorter station floor

Technologies: computer vision, robot motion, machine learning

According to Camirand, waste materials management plants could save 20% to 30% per year by opting for this system. One of these machines, which cost $ 700,000, pays for itself in two years.

Thus, municipalities will no longer have to deal with brown bins with such a system. However, they must provide green compostable bags to allow the system to identify organic matter from other wastes. “Even if a city has to supply the bags, it is 30% cheaper than buying brown bins for the entire population,” he said.

An evolving technology

“What seemed practically impossible to achieve four or five years ago now becomes possible thanks to the development of artificial intelligence and its software,” said Camirand.

Waste Robotics’ first robot was installed in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA), and two more robots are expected to be launched this year.

While today’s Waste Robotics technology allows the separation of organic materials from other wastes, Éric Camirand explains that a second version of the machine is currently being designed and sorting options will become practically endless. “The robot does not change, it is the software that makes it work that is continually adapted. We can play with the parameters to make it recognize all kinds of waste and fully replace the manual sorting. The possibilities are endless, ” he explains.

The company also offers a maintenance service that allows the team to integrate the new products into the sorting plant and download them to all the other machines sold.

ZenRobotics: a robotic waste separation technology

Waste Robotics’ competitor and world’s leading supplier of robotic waste separation technology, ZenRobotic is a Finnish high-tech company founded in 2007 specializing in robotic recycling technologies and products. ZenRobotics has introduced the latest upgrades to its robotic waste sorting system, ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR), developed for the sorting of recyclable waste for sorting centers and local communities.

The robots accurately separate chosen waste fractions from solid waste streams. A ZRR2 unit, with two arms, makes up to 4,000 picks per hour. Multiple robots working together 24/7 amount to a mountain of processed waste. All this with low energy consumption and up to 98% purity. The robot can simultaneously sort a wide variety of different materials and objects of varying shapes and sizes. The system is well equipped: cameras, infrared sensors, light sensors, 3D laser scanner, haptic sensors, metal detectors.

Veolia

World reference for waste management, Veolia develops innovative solutions for beneficial reuse or recycling waste into new raw materials protects and preserves our environment by limiting our dependence on landfills. Around the globe, Veolia helps cities and industries to manage, optimize and make the most of their resources.

Veolia also develops systems with optical sorting technologies coupled with robot gripping arms. Veolia expects automated sorting centers to be widely used by 2020.

Robotic trucks for waste collection

The rubbish collection by robots has been adopted in several US states, such as Florida and New York, as well as in other foreign cities such as Toronto (Canada) or Perth (Australia).

A dump truck equipped with a robotic arm grabs the bins one by one, positions them above the dumpster and empties them inside.

Expenses are quickly filled by better service, significant improvement in the working conditions of garbage collectors and a 20% reduction in the cost of collection.

China : army of robots to sort out 200,000 packages a day 

In China, the sorting center of Chinese delivery powerhouse Shentong (STO) Express sort out 200,000 packages a day thanks to hundred robots. They are able to identify the destination of a package through a code scan, virtually eliminating sorting mistakes.

The machines are cheaper than human workers and are also more efficient and accurate in sorting out parcels. The robots improved efficiency by around 30 percent and maximized sorting accuracy, the company said.

Recycling centers in the future

Artificial intelligence and robotization represent the future of waste management. The mechanical sorting center is “game over,” according to Éric Camiran. These intelligent systems can help communities manage their recycling centers more efficiently and cost-effectively.

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