|The world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic back in 1950. A global population of more than 7 billion people in 2016 produced over 320 million tons of plastic, which is expected to double by 2034 / Photo by: lightfieldstudios via 123RF|
The world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic back in 1950. A global population of more than 7 billion people in 2016 produced over 320 million tons of plastic, which is expected to double by 2034. These tons of plastics can be found anywhere, from the streets to the beaches. Unfortunately, not all of these end up being recycled. Every day, over eight million pieces of plastics find their way into our oceans.
A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances revealed that out of over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that have been produced since 1950, 6.3 billion metric tons have become plastic waste. Of that figure, only 9% has been recycled. Over 79% of the plastic waste ended up in landfills or in the natural environment as litter. According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, it is projected that there will be 12 billion metric tons by 2050 if the present trends continue.
Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia environmental engineer who specializes in studying plastic waste in the oceans, stated that gaining control of plastic waste calls for a comprehensive, global approach involving consumer use, recycling strategies, product design, and rethinking plastic chemistry.
“We as a society need to consider whether it’s worth trading off some convenience for a clean, healthy environment. For some products that are very problematic in the environment, maybe we think about using different materials. Or phasing them out,” lead author Roland Geyer said.
Fortunately, robots powered by artificial intelligence might be the solution to this worsening plastic and recycling crisis. The robotics industry has become more important than ever. Robotiq, an organization that works with a global network of connected robot experts supporting their local manufacturers, reported that the industrial robotics market is expected to grow by 175% over the next decade. According to the same report, 34% of the industrial robots that will be sold by 2025 are designed to work safely alongside humans and plants.
AI Robots and the Recycling Crisis
Our world produces millions of tons of plastics every day. It has even become a political issue since tons of plastic waste are sent to developing countries from first-world nations. Last year, China restricted the import of plastic waste, forcing the US to look for alternatives. At the same time, Canada and the Philippines had a diplomatic spat after Canada shipped tons of mixed trash to the country years ago.
The worst fact of all of these is that recycling has never been all that efficient. Fortunately, robots have the potential to address the broken economics of recycling. This is why several companies across the world are in a fast race to develop robotics technology with cutting edge artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency of the recycling process. According to BlueVision, a content platform that shows the transformative capacity human beings have to overcome obstacles to better the future, these robots aim to replace humans in the collecting and sorting of waste with mechanized platforms, optical sensors, and high processing computers.
As of now, several companies are developing new robotics technology to make recycling sustainable. One of them is AMP Robotics, an AI and robotics company that aims to change the way we recycle. It has developed software that uses machine learning and computer vision for their latest model: a "Cortex Robot.” It can recognize different patterns, sizes, shapes, textures, and colors of plastic to identify material characteristics so they can sort waste.
According to CNBC, the world leader in business news and real-time financial market coverage, AI robots from AMP Robotics are now being installed at the Single Stream Recyclers plant in Sarasota, Florida. These machines have the ability to pick 70 to 80 items a minute, which is twice as fast as humanly possible and with greater accuracy. Also, AI robots can make recycling faster and cheaper, raising the possibility that we can accomplish our waste disposal onshore.
“If a person can do it by sight, we should be able to do it with vision and deep learning. AMP Robotics amassed a massive data set of bottles, cans, and more. We used it to teach systems to recognize No. 1 and No. 2 plastics such as milk jugs, sizes, colors, logos, text, and reflectivity — a whole set of features,” Matanya Horowitz, CEO of AMP Robotics, said.
Aside from AMP Robotics, another company that uses AI robots is ZenRobotics, a supplier of intelligent sorting robots for the waste industry. It creates an accurate real-time analysis by combining data from multiple sensors. AI robots can make autonomous decisions on how to grasp and sort objects using sensor data.
Will AI Robots Replace Humans?
Aside from replacing humans with machines, these AI robots can increase productivity and lower the health risks of the recycling workers since the sorting and classification of waste mostly happen in dirty environments, often without proper protection. A report by the School of Public Health of the University of Illinois revealed that these workers are more prone to work accidents and injuries than the average workers in the country. Also, they have higher fatality rates at work.
“They’re not going to replace people. We will absolutely keep quality control people in our facilities—but they will allow us to process more tons per hour and provide cleaner recyclable products,” said Steve Sargent, director of recycling for Rumpke Waste & Recycling.
These AI robots not only make sure that recycling processes are done efficiently but also ensure that the plastics humans produce every day are controlled and managed properly.
|Aside from replacing humans with machines, these AI robots can increase productivity and lower the health risks of the recycling workers since the sorting and classification of waste mostly happen in dirty environments, often without proper protection / Photo by: Paolo De Gasperis via 123RF|