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Waste Sorting : ZenRobotics AI powered robotic sorters herald next generation MRF

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The recycling conundrum

On an annual basis, around 90 million tonnes of recyclable materials are sent to landfill.

Much of this has do with the challenges the recycling industry has to face, one of which is plastic contamination. For recycling plants, purity is of essence. Wrongly disposed items (ex. a non-recyclable product chucked into a recycling bin) or items with food leftovers stuck to them are enough to contaminate the plastic recycling stream within a recycling facility. China’s 2018 import ban on foreign plastics has led to the proliferation of such lower grade recyclables on landfills, especially considering that they often fail to meet the high purity levels required for resale at European markets.

Rise of robotic sorting

This is where AI-based waste sorting comes in.

Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) equipped with robotic recycling technology can help ensure cleaner plastic streams, allowing operators to deliver on the promise of high-purity recyclables.

As such, recycling robots can work twice as fast as humans and are trained to identify different colours, textures, shapes and sizes of plastic waste, ranging from household waste to C&D and industrial waste, which renders sorting more accurate as well as efficient. An example testifying to this would be the fact that a modern recovery facility handling light packaging is set to ensure 90% purity in its clear PET output, a number that jumps to 98% after robotic sorting.

With Covid-19 exacerbating health and safety concerns for manual pickers and pandemic related plastic waste on the rise, the continued adoption of automation technology for waste sorting in MRF’s appears to be a given.

ZenRobotics sorting solutions

ZenRobotics offers two bespoke AI powered picking solutions-a Fast as well as a Heavy Picker.

The Fast Picker, designed to replace manual picking in MRF’s, can be used to sort light packaging waste made from plastic, fibers or metals. It can handle hybrid packaging such as bottles, lids, cans or tray cups made from a compound of different plastics such as HDPE, LDPE, PP or PS, thereby circumventing the issues with regards to recycling mixed materials. The application ensures optimal plastic purity and can be trained to eliminate contaminants such as herbicide cans, silicone cartridges or non-stick ketchup bottles from the plastic stream. Due to its compact size, the ZenRobotics Fast Picker can be fully integrated into existing picking stations and sorting lines at MRF’s without further modification.

The Heavy Picker, aimed at processing heavy and bulky industrial waste, can similarly be incorporated within the remit of existing MRF recycling systems but can also be set up on site as an independent waste sorting unit. Used to sort through the likes of plastic, wood and metal, the ZenRobotics Heavy Picker eliminates the need for pre-shredding or sorting.

With the market for critical raw materials set to explode in the coming years, operators are already ramping up MRF’s with AI-based sorting technologies in order to achieve higher material recovery rates. As such, market leaders in waste automation technology such as ZenRobotics are posed not only to improve overall recyclability but also contribute to circular economy models.