Can technology reboot the recycling market?

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Written by: Jessica Wright

Recycling has been common practice for over 50 years. Unfortunately, practice does not always lead to perfection.  Garbage is often tossed into recycling bins, contaminating all of the contents. Another common practice, wish-cycling, mixes unusable materials with otherwise-valuable materials.[1]

That’s just two issues that recur in recycling. The problems have weakened commodity values, and diminished values can make recycling impractical. After considering the financials, several large municipalities no longer collect and process recycling.[2]

Fully aware of the declines in recycling quality as well as lower commodity values, Solid Waste Management (SWM) companies are finding solutions. Among the technical solutions, robotics and Artificial Intelligence have been implemented at both curbside and Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) locations.

CURBSIDE SOURCE SEPARATION

Self-sorting waste bins assist hurried humans at the food courts in airports, stadiums, and other public locations. These systems use Artificial Intelligence (AI), constantly refining the ways that they separate food court waste into garbage, recyclables. and organics.[3] Prototypes now in development will sort the waste even faster and more accurately. As systems and the market mature, better equipment will be available in more places.[4]

AI also works along city streets. Vehicle and bin sensors, connected through smart systems, assess materials and avoid contamination issues before the truck reaches the MRF.[5] Even before a truck deploys, customer service representatives can access a bin’s time and location-stamped records to focus on severe or recurring concerns.

MRF ROBOTICS

Along many MRF conveyor belts, the mechanical arms and camera eyes of robotic sorters supplement the manual sorting work done by employees.[6] A training specialist from the systems manufacturer may also be at an employee’s side,  providing orientation to a technologically advanced workplace.

Robots receive training as well. Most of that is done as machine learning during system setup. That brings about Artificial Intelligence (AI) which continues to develop after a system goes live. In daily operations, AI boosts the robotic brain that controls system eyes, arms, and hands. All of those may be deployed within enclosed equipment or at varied locations along a sorting line.[7]

The electronic eyes of a Visual Information System (VIS) — spectroscopic, 3D laser, or conventional video cameras — scan garbage that passes along a conveyor belt. In some cases, individual pixels within an image are separately analyzed. The AI-boosted brain then assigns digital descriptions to food cartons, glass, cans, plastic containers, and more.

As VIS capture images and AI classifies individual pieces of material, MRF operators receive real-time graphics and reports with which they can refine the system and monitor outbound residue.[8]

Beyond VIS imagery, other specialized sensors detect specific properties of material passing along the conveyor. Complex Autonomous Quality Control (AQC) systems recognize and sort several types of plastics in varied sizes and shapes.[9] Data from metal sensors triggers robot arms to extract ferrous, aluminum, other metals. As a single plastic item is classified by type, it is also weighed. Objects which weigh more than others of similar size and composition are pulled from the line. They may be bottles which should be drained before further processing.

THE POTENTIAL

Civic leaders and MRF management have seen their technology investments return value many ways. Some of the benefits have been quick wins, others will take more time. Some benefits are easily quantified, others are not:

  • Safety

    Robotic sorting machines can safely and efficiently tackle hazardous and dirty jobs. Robots won’t get stuck by a needle or develop back injuries. They can reach into a waste stream and lift out items that don’t belong there.

  • Speed

    On single stream container lines, robots typically achieve 70 to 80 picks per minute. Manual sorters may pick about half that rate.

  • Quality

    Even as a greater variety of materials can be handled, higher-quality sorted bales are produced.

  • Human Resource Management

    As the routine sorting is done by machine, employees can be trained in the technical skills relevant to a 21st-century facility.

  • Resilience

    With the data provided by AI systems, MRF operators can optimize system performance and better respond to new sources and types of materials.

Would you like more information about the available technologies and where they are installed? Reach out to ecoPreserve. We are here to help!

[1] Waste360.com —  NWRA Recognizes Best Recycling
[2] Waste360.com —  Big 3 Solid Waste Companies Talk Recycling
[3] CBC.ca — CBC Radio (Canada)
[4] CleanRobotics.com
[5] RecyclingToday.com — Single-stream recyclers share robotics AI insights
[6] RecyclingToday.com — Suppliers of robotics AI discuss technology applications
[7] Waste-Management-World.com
[8] RecyclingToday.com — Video robotic sorting systems
[9] RecyclingToday.com — MRF adds robotics

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AWARE of CDC and NIH guidelines

The Baseline Property Condition Assessments described in ASTM E2018-15 do not specify consideration of infectious disease transmission concerns. In a pandemic and post-pandemic environment, that inspection and documentation is essential.

Buildings open to the public must comply with local regulations. For best results and greatest public acceptance, any planning for building repairs and maintenance should not overlook current CDC and NIH guidelines.

Optionally, ecoPreserve's can assist with a comprehensive GBAC STAR™ Accreditation which extends beyond the building to include the goals, actions, equipment, and supplies needed to implement best practices for outbreak prevention, response, and recovery.

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Disaster resilience requires a select toolset, identified, adapted, or created as needed based on planning calls and inclusive workshop participation.

Business and government organizations today are confronted by threat categories that range from drought to flood, from fire to hurricane, and extend globally to pandemics and sea level rise. Threat categories are broad and diverse, but ecoPreserve and collaborating organizations design resiliency tools for specific local context.

Local needs are identified and verified. Building from that essential understanding, tools are designed, tested in pilot programs, refined, then implemented through action plans.

Today's challenges/
tomorrow's potential

ecoPreserve collaborates with major community and private organizations in optimizing the resiliency and resource efficiency of their workplaces, venues, and public spaces.

In response to ever-increasing environmental, sociopolitical, and public health challenges, we advocate for and participate in assessment and planning actions that directly address disaster preparations, recovery activities, infrastructure improvements, and smart building/city design.

Online and in-person workshops

ecoPreserve designs and leads workshops in varied formats, to achieve varied goals.

Often an event is held for skill and knowledge development, but some needs of an organization or community are better resolved through collaboration to identify requirements and to design solutions. A range of Disaster Resilience workshops are available for solutions planning and development, as well as for training and communication.

Disaster Planning and Recovery Workshops

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  • Address compliance with regulatory agencies and industry standards
Here's how to request further information. Thank you for reaching out!

Here's how to request further information. Thank you for reaching out!

Facility Condition Report

The report is prepared in accordance with the recommendations of ASTM E2018-15, Standard Guide for Property Condition Assessments. This is a partial list of contents:

  • PHYSICAL CONDITION
    • General condition of the building, grounds, and appurtenances
    • Physical deficiencies, their significance, and suggested remedies
    • Photographs
    • Safety issues observed
  • INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPREAD POTENTIAL
  • OPPORTUNITIES
    • Potential operating efficiencies
    • Electricity and water use reductions
    • High-efficiency interior and exterior lighting
  • ORDER OF MAGNITUDE RENOVATION BUDGET
    • Recommended interior finishes
    • Construction costs

Risk Mitigation Improvements

  • IAQ
    • Airflow
    • Temperature and humidity
    • Vertical transportation (escalators and elevators)
  • HVAC EQUIPMENT
    • Settings
    • Conditions
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  • FLOORPLAN
    • Traffic patterns
  • FURNISHINGS
    • Placement for social distancing
    • Clear barriers where social distancing is not possible

Interior Elements

  • Foundation
  • Building frame and roof
  • Structural elements
    • Floors, walls, ceilings
    • Access and egress
    • Vertical transportation (escalators and elevators)
  • HVAC equipment and ductwork
  • Utilities
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Grounds and Appurtenances

  • Façades or curtainwall
  • Topography
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  • Paving, curbing, and parking
  • Flatwork
  • Landscaping
  • Recreational facilities
Here's how to request further information. Thank you for reaching out!

AWARE of CDC and NIH guidelines

The Baseline Property Condition Assessments described in ASTM E2018-15 do not specify consideration of infectious disease transmission concerns. In a pandemic and post-pandemic environment, that inspection and documentation is essential.

Buildings open to the public must comply with local regulations. For best results and greatest public acceptance, any planning for building repairs and maintenance should not overlook current CDC and NIH guidelines.

Optionally, ecoPreserve's can assist with a comprehensive GBAC STAR™ Accreditation which extends beyond the building to include the goals, actions, equipment, and supplies needed to implement best practices for outbreak prevention, response, and recovery.

An OPTIMIZED Assessment

Certified Sustainability Consultants on a facility assessment team can discover ways to lower energy costs. Their understanding of HVAC equipment suitability and condition along with the specifics of LED lighting retrofits can provide offsets for needed investments in upgrades and replacements.

Knowledge of water systems can bring further savings while averting water waste. It can all be part of an assessment which might otherwise overlook water fixtures and irrigation schedules.

How should a facility be ASSESSED?

A thorough facility assessment finds the issues - on the surface or below - which have a potential negative impact on the building. That brings the facility to meet building codes. Beyond that, the assessment proactively addresses the deficiencies not covered by code.

The occupants of a building benefit as the assessment reveals conditions having a potential impact on their health or safety. The assessment must not overlook those conditions, nor fail to consider the frequency and duration of occupant visits.