The Future of Recycling Is…Robots?


by | Mar 17, 2017

robotMove over, Liam. Apple’s recycling robot isn’t the only such program helping companies increase recycling rates and use less virgin materials.

Yesterday the Carton Council of North America said its recycling robot, named Clarke after the sci-fi author and futurist Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, can collect cartons for recycling more efficiently than its human counterparts at Alpine Waste & Recycling’s material recovery facility in Denver.

The project partners — the Carton Council, AMP Robotics and Alpine Waste & Recycling, installed Clarke at the material recovery facility in late 2016. The robot learned to identify the wide variety of food and beverage cartons and to grab and separate them from the recycling stream using spider-like arms with specially designed grippers.

After fine-tuning and adjustments, Clarke has achieved a pickup rate of 60 cartons per minute, compared to the human average of 40 picks per minute, the organizations say.

“Clarke greatly expands opportunities for the carton industry as we work to increase the efficiency of carton recycling and, ultimately, divert more cartons from landfills,’’ said Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council and vice president, environment, for Tetra Pak cluster Americas. “Everything Clarke has learned about identifying cartons can be transferred to robots at other MRFs. We are excited to bring innovation to carton recycling and believe this technology has widespread implications for the recycling industry, as it can be adapted to other materials.’’

The robot also can provide a cost-effective way for facilities to introduce new packaging, while unique grippers can be developed to identify and pick contaminants — a major obstacle to increasing recycling rates, said Matanya Horowitz, founder of AMP Robotics. Horowitz told Waste360 that the automated system cuts sorting costs by 50 percent.

Other robotics solutions on the market include the ZenRobotics Recyclers, which is also an AI-controlled recycling system. These that can sort and separate large and heavy objects of up to 45 pounds, making it useful for construction and demolition waste.

In November, Austin recycling company Recon Services Inc./973 Materials said it will be the first facility in the US to install a ZenRobotics sorting line in its C&D Recycling Facility.

Apple’s recycling robot Liam can can disassemble 1.2 million phones a year, sorting all of their valuable materials so they can be recycled and reducing the need for mining resources, according to the tech giant.

Additionally, Volvo Group is testing a Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling (ROAR) system that would deploy robots as part of collections efforts, Waste360 reports. Instead of using human workers, Volvo’s robots will receive instructions from operating systems to the heavy lifting and dumping, which reduces the risk of injury to drivers.

Robots can also increase worker safety in other waste management jobs: specifically nuclear waste cleanup sites that post too high of a risk to human workers.

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