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How AI is joining the waste recycling battle

How AI is joining the waste recycling battle

A UK startup company has developed a new AI system to recycle excess waste around the world.

According to the data of the World Bank, in 2020 only about two hundred million tons of 'solid waste' was produced. And, by the year 2050, this number will increase by 73 percent and reach 380 million tons.

The biggest problem is plastic. According to the research of various universities in Georgia and California states of the United States, more than 830 million tons of waste have been produced from this plastic, which has started to be produced on a large scale since the 50s, until 2015.

These figures no longer surprise Mikaela Druckman of UK startup GrapeParrot. Because, he spent a lot of time behind waste. His company has developed an AI system that can analyze various issues related to waste management and recycling, the BBC reported.

“The amount of waste that comes through just one recycling plant in a day is literally mountainous. The saddest thing is that there is no stopping it.” He said.

"There is no holiday for garbage, it just keeps coming."

GrapeParrot uses AI software to analyze what goes through the conveyor belts of around 50 waste recycling sites in Europe in real time.

AI technology has come a long way in the past year. Its image analysis capabilities are also quite good. But Druckmann said the task of training a system to detect litter was difficult.

“Once a product like a Coke bottle goes into the 'bin' it will crumble, it will have a lot of dirt on it. Knowing this stuff AI in this situation is infinitely more complicated.”

In total, GrapeParrot's system can now track 3.2 billion waste items per year. In addition, the company has created a huge digital map of waste. This information can be used by waste management personnel.

“What's going on with something, what things are having problems - that kind of information now gives AI a better understanding. Besides, it is influencing different packaging designs as well.” -- said Druckman

“We see climate change and waste management as separate issues. However, they are interrelated. Because we use different resources, but because there is no opportunity to recycle them.”

He hopes that various major brands and other manufacturers will use GrapeParrot's data to create more such reusable products in the future.

A company called 'Footprint' is run by Troy Soap of the United States. He founded it to develop packaging systems. The company has worked with various supermarkets as well as razor brand 'Gillette'. He is trying to use plant-based fiber instead of plastic in making Gillette razor trays.

In a blog post on Footprint's website, Soap claimed, "In the name of recycling, consumers are actually being fed fiction."

As an example, he pointed to a plastic container and said it was claimed as 'ready to recycle'. He is asking - tell me, what is the meaning of this word?

"It is unlikely that these 'single-use' plastics they throw away will end up anywhere other than waste." -- writes Soap.

"The only way out of this plastic crisis is to stop relying on it in the first place."

Druckmann says so-called 'greenwashing' is a big problem.

“We see a lot of claims about eco-friendly or green packaging. But they often contain gibberish, which confuses consumers.”

To let retailers know at what rate used plastic bottles are actually being recycled, UK company Polytag puts an 'ultraviolet (UV)' tag on them, which is invisible to the naked eye.

After the bottles arrive at the recycling plant, the machine scans the tags. Those bottle numbers are then uploaded in real time to a cloud-based app, which the company's customers can see.

“They can see exactly how many bottles have been recycled. No brand has been able to deliver such benefits before.”-- said Rosa Knox-Bradley, Project Manager at PolyTag.

So far the company has worked with UK retail companies 'Co-op' and 'Ocado'.

Finding environmentally friendly ways to get rid of waste is still complicated. However, there are usually many new trends emerging every year.

The latest example is 'e-cigarette' or 'vape'. These are creating new 'garbage mountains' that are difficult to recycle.

“It's a problem from the start. And now it's getting huge." -- said Ray Parmenter, head of policy and technology at the UK's waste regulator 'Chartered Institute of Waste Management'.

"Disposable or single-use vaping is at the root of the problem," he added. Besides, he also termed it as a 'curse for the circular economy'.

Disposable vapes include plastic, metal, lithium batteries, LED lights, and even microprocessors.

Research by e-recycling campaign group Materials Focus last year found that 1.3 million vapes are thrown away every week in the UK alone. This means that about 10 tons of lithium is wasted every year, which could power 1,200 car batteries.

“The way we are extracting sensitive raw materials like lithium from deep mines is not easy to get to.

y. So after collecting it we should use it in the best possible way.” Parmenter said.

"This vape could also be an example of changing our thinking." -- said Druckman.

"It doesn't make sense economically. It doesn't make any sense. Instead of looking for ways to recycle, we should be asking, why did we start using single-use vape?"

He further added that industry and policy makers as well as consumers have a major role to play in product recycling. And the biggest change they can make is to 'reduce' their use. 


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