Using AI & IoT technolgies to help sort recycling

15-10-2021 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

Recently, two Austrian communities have teamed up to develop a solution to homeowners not properly sorting out their recycling. Why is self-sorting waste so essential to the environment, what did the two companies develop, and will technology help with reducing waste?

Why is self-sorting waste essential for recycling?

World consumerism and mass exploitation caused by capitalism have been a blight on humanity and mother nature, well, at least that is what some environmentalists would say. However, it is true that mass production and improper waste management has led to widespread pollution, destruction of habitats, and harm to wildlife.

Destruction of the environment occurs during all stages of a products life; the creation of a product often requires mining activities that tears up natural habitats, the use of a product can damage the climate through CO2 emissions, and the disposal of the product can litter the environment with microplastics and toxic waste.

One of the best methods to manage the final stage of a product’s life cycle, disposal, is proper recycling. This stage reduces the amount of waste that ends up in a landfill and helps to reclaim material that can be used in other products, thereby reducing the need for future mining and/or material gathering operations.

However, sorting waste is no small task; landfills of waste need to be correctly identified into their material composition, cleaned, and then processed to reclaim material. The easiest method to achieve this by far is to sort waste at the consumer end, whereby a product user identifies the materials themselves and separates their waste into appropriate categories. This removes the need for further waste management, which reduces the cost of processing and thus decreases the cost of recycling.

Using tech to push people into proper recycling

Recently, two Austrian communities, Horn and Tulln, have started to utilise modern technology to help improve their recycling methods while simultaneously decreasing CO2 emissions. Utilising technology developed by Saubermacher, it was realised that recycling can be improved using technology in two main areas; waste sorting and intelligent collection.

The first project launched, Project Intelligent Glass Collection, uses sensors in waste collection bins and IoT to relay how much waste is currently waiting to be collected. Real-time data is relayed to central servers that compare this data to waste trucks available and their capacity. Using this data, optimised collection routes are planned where containers still partly empty are ignored, and the most fuel-efficient vehicles are chosen.

The second project, Project Raising Awareness, uses scanners in waste collection vehicles that check what waste is being collected from individual homes. Upon being scanned, AI analyses the data and determines if the homeowner has correctly sorted their waste. If not, text messages can be sent to the homeowner informing them of their incorrect sorting and how proper sorting can help the environment. It is believed that such a system could help Austria reduce its carbon footprint by 350,000 tonnes per year (equivalent to removing 65,000 cars from roads).

Can technology help reduce waste?

Ironically, the very thing producing waste could be the key to reducing it. While construction technologies are looking into using waste as a building material, algorithms and AI to help reduce waste by simply changing behaviour could be ideal.

Simply banning products and reducing production is no small feat and can negatively affect economies which is why no matter how many protest against consumerism, it continues to grow. However, the simple act of adequate recycling can easily be mandated and doesn’t even have to affect how much we produce.

AI and IoT technologies have proven to do more than we could ever imagine, and helping to reduce waste and CO2 is just another example of how these technologies will benefit the world.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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