17th February 2021

Recycling robots: the future of recycling is here

Recycling robots: the future of recycling is here

As the pandemic continues to accelerate automation in 2021, learn why recycling robots are creating a more efficient and cost-effective way of recycling.

The recycling industry is evolving. When most UK recycling facilities were forced to close in March 2020, it sparked a change.

Close human contact was no longer a possibility – leaving recycling facilities with an uphill challenge to overcome.

To make matters worse, the World Bank believes global waste will increase by 70% by 2050 unless urgent action is taken. It’s worrying news when you consider the extra waste accumulated during lockdown.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite there being more rubbish to sift through and fewer employees around to do the job, robots are here to revolutionise the recycling industry.

Recycling and robots: addressing the problems

Automation and greater efficiency aren’t exactly new in the recycling industry’s wish-list.

For years, public confusion on what can and can’t be recycled have added to the UK’s overflowing landfills. Even when people sort their rubbish correctly, the ratio of recyclables that are repurposed is minimal compared to the overall quantity that ends up in landfills across the UK. The single-stream recycling system in this country which enables citizens to throw recyclables into one or two boxes is grossly outdated.

Most recycling facilities still rely on human sorting, which is a major issue during the pandemic. It only takes one outbreak to shut down a recycling plant. Human sorting is also a highly expensive, time-consuming and futile process. Mistakes are rife and speed is a problem.

Cue: recycling robots.

In 2020, robotic sales in the recycling industry soared. And for good reason too. These smart, innovative recycling robots can sort, pick and place an array of materials by utilising artificial intelligence (AI).

Among some of the biggest manufacturers in recycling robotics are TOMRA, ZenRobotics and Machinex. Their robotic arms use computer vision systems, cameras and data generated from sensors to sort items on a conveyor belt. The process of separation is based on the colour, size, conductivity level and shape.

However, the competency to deliver accurate results only tells half of the story. Perhaps the most compelling selling point is the speed in which these recycling robots can sort.

For instance, a human can sort an average of 800 recyclables per hour, while Machinex’s optical sorter can do up to 3,000 per minute.

Even the technology giant, Apple, has created its own recycling robot called Daisy. This purpose-built robot dissembles iPhones and recycles select used models to be returned to Best Buy stores throughout the US and KPN retailers in the Netherlands.

It seems robot technology in the recycling industry isn’t a matter of if, it’s a case of when.

Adapting to the new normal

The output of recycling robots and the complexities of the pandemic has created a new era for the recycling industry.

Sure, protective equipment can help prevent the spread of the virus, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer speed and efficiency of robotic process automation.

Plus, with many recycling facilities forced to place workers side-by-side at the conveyor belts, creating a safe environment is extremely difficult.

The added benefit of recycling robot technology is that it enables recycling facilities to space out their remaining employees.

It’s also worth noting that recycling robots can’t fulfil every job. In particular, scrap metal pickup. A service which is still incredibly important for electricians, machinist shops and construction firms who amass a great deal of surplus metal.

As we look ahead, there’s no doubt that robot technology is the smartest solution for recycling facilities. As a solution, recycling robots are quicker sorters, more accurate and can’t catch coronavirus!

Once lockdown measures are eased, don’t expect things to go back to normal. The pandemic will leave an internal scar and create a new order. This doesn’t mean humans won’t be needed in the recycling industry. It’s a simple case of repurposing human jobs to different areas of the recycling facility.

Now, is the time to adapt and rethink processes, not recycle old processes from yesteryear. The decision is yours.

Recycling robot services

At Hills Electrical Group, we offer several electrical, automation and maintenance services to recycling centres in Birmingham and the West Midlands area.

So, if you’re keen to invest in recycling robots or require around the clock assistance to minimise robot downtime, we’re here to help. Our team provide complete turnkey solutions and affordable maintenance packages for recycling facilities. For more information, get in touch today.

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