The TrashBot Automatically Separates Recyclables from Garbage

Interesting Engineering

Researchers are currently developing a robot that separates and recycles all your garbage for you. The TrashBot is an innovative robot that will help resolve one of humanity's greatest problems: Utter laziness.

Recycling is incredibly easy. At the least, it requires walking up to a recycling receptacle and throwing away some trash. The most demanding task about recycling is checking the number on the bottom of a plastic object to see if it is rated as recyclable. The task is remarkably simple, yet humans are failing to do it all around the world.

The TrashBot Automatically Separates Recyclables from Garbage

Recycling bins that are clearly labeled in public. [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Recycling bins are seemingly everywhere these days. They line malls and cover city streets. Although there is a large presence of recycling bins, most of the time, it is simply just an illusion.

Most Companies do Not Recycle (Despite advertising recycling bins)

More often than not, recycling bins placed at businesses open to the public are only set in place to improve public relations and adhere to a more "Eco" image. Unfortunately, people neglect the obvious signs that denoting which bin is which and discard material into the wrong place. If the recycling is not sufficiently separated, companies simply throw all their recycling bags in the same rubbish bins destined for the landfill.

The problem persists in most chain restaurants and businesses. At locations including McDonald's, Staples, Tim Hortons (for those in Canada), Wendy’s, and many more, employees are told to throw all the recycling into the garbage bin.

Dylan Sinstead, a former McDonald's employee talked to Interesting Engineering and commented on the issue.

“Typically McDonald's have three different receptacles for waste, paper, and plastic. Although, when it's recycled all of it gets thrown into the same compactor bin. When it's collected by the garbage truck, the only thing recycled are the cardboard shipping boxes that are used for things like produce, cups, condiments etc. Nothing that the consumer throws away is recycled at all.”

Bin Labels are Useless

The problem seems to exist across most businesses that serve the public. Emily Russell confirmed during her employment at Tim Hortons (a Canadian food chain), the recycling was nothing but an illusion.

“When I worked at Tim [Hortons], we had separate bins for garbage and recycling, and their bin labels really are useless. At our location, all the bags (regardless of whether or not they were labeled as garbage or recycling) went into the garbage dumpster. [Our employers] wanted us to just tie the bags and get rid of them as soon as possible”

However, the problem exists far beyond fast food chain restaurants.

Johnathon, a worker for an Ontario park who requested to not have his last name displayed, admitted most recycling incoming from public areas is automatically trashed due to the cross contamination.

“In parks, the contents from the recycling receptacles aren't used for recycling when they arrive at the recycling plant, due to a proven past history of contamination from unrelated items,”

He adds,

“The processing plant does not take the due diligence to siphon through the contaminants in the recycling. All the recycling content ends up being trashed.”

Other employees from Sport Chek, Winners, and many other locations claim the recycling image is simply a public relations ruse.

The issue is not the companies themselves. Today, companies are under public pressure to enforce environmentally friendly programs. However, despite companies clearly displaying and labeling recycling programs, consumers apparently do not understand how to use the recycling bins properly.

The solution? A robot that does it for you.

The TrashBot

The TrashBot is an innovative solution that uses AI to sort recyclables from trash.

The program uses a camera to detect when garbage enters the holding bay. Then, an AI system recognizes the material and determines which type of material the trash is composed of. Designed by CleanRobotics, the company hopes their product will eliminate recycling contamination.

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"Our flagship product, intelligently separates recyclables, and monitors your waste management processes by dynamically analyzing the data about what is disposed of in your building, city, or county." CleanRobotics explains on their website.

They add,

"TrashBot is the world’s first “smart” waste bin that automatically sorts your recyclables from everyday trash. By combining next-generation robotics, advanced sensor technology, and the Cloud, TrashBot not only categorizes your unwanted materials, it can audit your waste generation, let you know when it’s full, and can be wirelessly updated if there is a change in your community’s recycling program."

TrashBot in Action

The product is still in a prototype phase, however, Clean Robotics hopes to roll out full-scale production models sometime soon.

The biggest challenge is developing an AI system that can recognize various types of recycling. Although, the product will work significantly better in a business setting - specifically in the food sector.

In places like McDonald's, Wendy's, and other fast food chains, the garbage is predictable and consistent. An AI system could easily distinguish the material entering the bin, allowing it to separate the material with accurate precision.

The TrashBot Automatically Separates Recyclables from Garbage

[Image Source: CleanRobotics]

Currently, the largest problem with the TrashBot model comes when multiple pieces enter the storage bay simultaneously. Since the robot can only dispense one piece of garbage at a time, multiple pieces could confuse the robot into dispensing the material into the wrong bin.

Perhaps adding a robotic arm that can actively select the garbage could alleviate the problem. Or, a system using various air currents could separate the material by mass before disposal.

Recycling the Future

The solution is as simple as people recognizing how to properly dispose of their trash (and really, it is not that difficult...). However, clearly, humans are incapable of such a demanding task. Therefore, although the TrashBot requires some refining, it is more important than ever to employ a technology to prevent humanity's ignorance from damaging the planet further with senseless waste.

Whatever the final design may be, the TrashBot is addressing a serious problem. Apparently, one that humans cannot resolve on their own due to sheer laziness.

Via CleanRobotics

SEE ALSO: How to Recycle 42 Million Tonnes of E-Waste Each Year

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