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The Future of Recycling: Artificial Intelligence in the Industry 

 

More than 2.1 billion tons of waste are produced each year worldwide, the equivalent of more than 800,000 Olympic swimming pools. The figures are worrisome because only 16% of this waste is recycled. 

If we, as inhabitants of the planet, maintain the current rate of consumption of natural resources, by 2050 we will need three times more materials, as highlighted by the independent organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in its Living Planet report.  

 
What actions are needed to change the present and migrate to a greener future? 

 

Undoubtedly, the recycling and waste management industry has become a fundamental part of the sustainable development of our communities. The sector is positioned as a key solution for the recovery and conservation of our mother earth.  

The challenge seems monumental, which is why the recycling industry employs and develops technological contributions to improve and streamline its processes. 

One major innovation is Artificial Intelligence (AI), which allows machines to emulate human thinking and behaviour. Its incorporation into the waste management and recovery sector has undoubtedly revolutionized the entire industry. 

Although it is considered a new technology (it has been in existence for just over 60 years), in recent years it has made significant progress towards the goal of providing solutions that form an efficient and innovative system capable of solving the current waste crisis.  

 

Smart recycling creates a more sustainable future. 

 

The development of AI and its introduction into the recycling industry has undoubtedly simplified the waste management system. 

Currently, there are different models that favour waste reduction processes and the recovery of materials for reuse. 

The following are three initiatives in different latitudes of the globe that use Artificial Intelligence and have a positive impact on a more sustainable future. 

  • Recicla-IA

Can you imagine a robotic arm that separates garbage autonomously?  

A team of young Latin Americans uses artificial intelligence to create a system for sorting municipal solid waste. (MSW) 

Currently in Latin America only 30% of garbage is recycled. The sorting process is traditionally a manual task and, in many cases, those who perform the work do not separate the waste correctly, which impedes the recovery of valuable materials. 

Recicla-IA created an interface with the purpose of increasing the percentage of potentially recyclable waste to 92%. The model is capable of identifying and categorizing up to seven different types of solid waste. 

Antonio Luna, leader of the project, comments that this prototype even allows one to make one's own garbage separator and sorter. 

  • Watch&Act  & Grupo Defensa

Is it possible to reduce emissions from the collection and transportation of paper and cardboard waste by 30%? 

It is possible! Thanks to the initiative of Watch&Act and Grupo Defensa, two Spanish companies that joined forces with the aim of improving paper and cardboard recovery and treatment processes. To achieve the goal, AI and IoT systems were introduced in the containers, which allow compressing the material and obtaining greater storage capacity. In addition, this model uses a predictive algorithm to organize the dispatch of collection trucks, which reduces fuel consumption. 

In this way, a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions derived from the transport and collection systems has been achieved. 

Would you like to remotely optimize the operation of your recycling plant? 

REDWAVE, an Austrian company, makes it possible thanks to its user-friendly software that allows you to inspect and manage recycling plant processes from the comfort of various mobile devices. 

REDWAVE mate is the name of the interface that can be connected and used through smartphones and smart watches, tablets, among others. 

This model is the first system with Artificial Intelligence that gathers and evaluates throughput data with the aim of maximizing sorting efficiency and ensuring the highest possible purity of materials. 

In addition, REDWAVE mate allows communication between sorting machines to occur in real time. 

The future is now   

 

Undoubtedly, the inclusion, application, development and use of Artificial Intelligence in the recycling and waste management industry provides increasingly profitable options that benefit the entire chain of players involved in the process. 

The challenge is to bet on intelligent technologies that provide greater efficiency in the waste management system, since in this way, each of its different parts will benefit: Recycling companies, waste collectors, citizens, local governments, etc. 

All the measures taken today and aimed at a greener future will have a significant impact on our quality of life and that of future generations.