Welcome To Robotics’ Waste & Recycling Management

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As the world population produces more and more trash, it is high time to examine the evolution of the waste management and recycling business and the use of robotics in managing this recoverable waste stream.

The effective use of such smart technology is regarded as a major step forward in managing and recycling waste. One astute observer, Bob Wallace, provides this perspective about such garbage-sorting robots, “If domestic garbage could be effectively sorted, then organics could be composted for methane and the amount going into landfills greatly reduced.”

According to Waste Management World, “Intelligent robotic systems can process almost any given waste stream and sorting capabilities can be redefined for every new market situation — even on a daily basis. Furthermore, increased flexibility in recognition gives plant operators the possibility to explore new use cases.”

Finland-based ZenRobotics manufactures its ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR) as a smart solution to this end.

“ZenRobotics Recycler relies on the unique combination of our own smart software and standard industrial robots. Various sensors continuously monitor the waste stream. Smart and self-learning software, which we call ZenRobotics Brain, analyzes the sensor data in real-time. High-grade, durable industrial robots pick waste fractions of various shapes and sizes quickly and accurately.”

ZenRobotics ZRR_how_it_works

According to ZenRobotics, the recycling software-based system works this way:

  1. ZRR Sensor unit continuously scans the waste stream.
  2. ZenRobotics Brain control software analyzes the data in real-time and controls the robots.
  3. ZenRobotics Brain identifies individual materials, objects, and gripping points from the waste streams.
  4. ZenRobotics Smart Gripper picks up the desired objects and throws them in the right chute.
  5. Robots can sort multiple fractions in one spot and adjust their work as needed.

In practice, the ZRR is capable of sorting metals, different grades of wood or minerals, rigid plastics and cardboard. The software can also be configured to sort specific objects or new waste fractions.

According to ZenRobotics, its system training process works effectively “…by simply showing ZRR samples of objects that you want to sort.”

Smart control and reporting tools for recycling

The ZRR comes equipped with easy-to-use controls, allowing users to change sorting tasks as required.

In this era of cloud-based platforms, users can have access to ZRR performance reports online using computers, tablets, or smartphones.

Smarter sorting solutions are in demand due to tightening regulations. As in many other industries, the recycling industry has also embraced the potential of robotics and digitalization.

Next fall, ZenRobotics has agreed to deliver ZRR waste-sorting systems to Australia and Sweden. The company states these robotic recycling systems will be the first of their kind in the respective markets.

With such intelligent robotic systems in place, now the world needs to benefit from the evolution of its human population in practicing the smart disposal and recycling of waste products.

“Our customers are innovative visionaries who want to keep ahead. They believe that the new, smarter technologies will improve and future-proof their operations,” says Rainer Rehn, ZenRobotics CCO.

ZenRobotics will strengthen its global presence as two new robotic sorting lines are opened in Japan and France in early fall. Since the launch of the Next Generation ZRR in December 2014, the company has sold 15 units worldwide. Unit costs were not available.

The worldwide rise of municipal solid waste

A report from the World Bank’s Urban Development department estimates the amount of municipal solid waste will rise from the current 1.3 billion tons per year to 2.2 billion tons per year by 2025. Much of this staggering increase in solid waste is expected to come in rapidly growing cities in developing countries.

The annual global cost of this necessary solid waste management is projected to rise from the current $205 billion to $375 billion, with the cost increasing most severely for those cities in low-income countries.

The report, What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management, provides consolidated data on MSW generation, collection, composition, and disposal by country and by region.

Worldwide recycling rates

Planet Aid reports Americans recycle 34% of all waste they create. This number is according to the latest report from the Environmental Protection Agency. And while the US recycling rate has increased over time — it was a mere 6.2% 50 years ago — there is significantly more waste being created now. In total, Americans generated 254 million tons of trash in 2013, which is about 4.4 pounds per person per day.

In contrast, many European countries have developed more successful recycling programs, with Austria and Germany boasting the highest recycling rates at 63 and 62%, respectively.

Developing countries generally do not have formal recycling systems in place. It is common, however, for people to make a living salvaging recyclable materials from the trash to sell. The Zabaleen people in Egypt, for example, go door to door in Cairo collecting trash, of which they are able to recycle up to 80%.

Solutions such as the ZRR have come to market at an important time, it seems.

Images via ZenRobotics

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Glenn Meyers

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

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