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Leveraging Artificial Intelligence and Robotics to find a solution to the plastic sorting crisis

The U.S.A. is encountering an escalating plastics issue. Regardless of accounting for merely 4% of the international population, the country generates 12% of the planet’s municipal solid waste. While the U.S.A. has comprehensive recycling infrastructure in place, Americans recycle just 35% of the garbage they generate. 

This waste problem encompasses more than only plastics, but they’re a considerable portion of it. Single-use plastic products make up millions of tons of waste yearly, and 94% of American tap water samples consist of microplastics. These pollutants pose a threat to both wildlife and human beings, so something is required to change.  

While this is a complex matter, developing a more efficient recycling framework can assist. Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics may be critical in meeting that objective. 

The recycling crisis 

The U.S.A. outsources a majority of its recycling. Whereas China has ceased to accept recycling products, the country still sends waste to other countries. Approximately 70% of these materials are not recycled, so this outsourcing proves to be ineffectual.  

The country’s domestic recycling attempts don’t rate much better. Approximately one in four items people put in recycling containers are tainted, making them unrecyclable. Sifting through these materials to isolate recyclables from trash is a costly, slow, and challenging procedure.  

As it takes so much time and resource expenditure to go about sorting and processing, a few cities have begun burning or trashing recyclable materials. If America’s recycling system functioned as it should, plastic waste would be a lot less pressing matter. Contamination and ineffective sorting procedures have made it ineffective though, leading to increasing plastic pollution. 

How Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics could assist 

Lately, various startups and analysts have put forth a tech-centred solution. Automation, which makes manufacturing procedures far more effective, could do the same for recycling centres. AI-driven robots could sort garbage from recyclables far quicker and more precisely than people, recycling more materials. 

Machine vision systems provide these robots the capability to detect particular objects and decide whether they’re recyclable. They can then gather recyclable materials off conveyor belts and put them in bins far away from the garbage. This procedure is like how human beings sort recyclables from garbage, but robots are far more effective at it.  

AMP Robotics, one of the most innovative startups in this domain, makes the claim that their machines and pick 70 to 80 articles in sixty seconds. That’s twice quicker than human beings and the robots are in theory more precise as well. Machines can’t get fatigued or carried away, so they won’t commit mistakes owing to being bored or any other distractions which are bound to impact humans. 

The recycling and waste industry also encounters an increasing labour shortage, marring its productivity. Leveraging robots in sorting recyclables will assist facilities enhance efficiency regardless of struggling to identify new workers. With ML frameworks, these systems will also become more precise the longer they are functional. 

Hurdles with Robotic Recycling 

For all of their advantages, recycling bots still carry downsides. Most noteworthy, these frameworks are costly. One San-Francisco-based recycling organization had 11$ million expenditures to upgrade its singular facility. While bots save expenses over the longer term, from minimized labour expenditure to enhanced productivity, these upfront expenses can prove to be restrictive. 

Robots are additionally, not an ideal solution. Machine vision may be more precise than human beings, but it still does not function as it should a majority of the time. Waste will persist in presenting a problem to us, albeit a less important one. Robots will have to function along with human beings, not substitute them, to impart the most advantages. 

These hurdles imply that the movement towards automation will be a protracted, gradual one. Ultimately though, AI-driven bots could incite a revolution in plastic recycling.  

Sustainability is a hurdle, but technology can assist 

Minimizing the country’s plastic waste won’t provide a solution to the issue of sustainability, but it’s a brilliant first stage. Technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence make it simpler to manage these challenging activities, bring people closer to wider sustainability objectives. Robots might not create a disruption in recycling overnight, but they’re gradually make it a more effective procedure. 

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