ZenRobotics Ltd, a firm based in Helsinki, has delivered the first wind-powered recycling robot in Sweeden, an invention reflecting an emerging view among some companies that more sophisticated sorting technology has a substantial role to play in bringing our waste crisis under control. The video above shows the robot in action.

The company, which is already familiar to my readers, has sold 32 robotic arms globally to date. Customers include Australia’s Sunshine Groupe, and Jiangsu LVHE Environmental Technology, which is building China’s first robotic recycling plant for construction waste. ZenRobotics’ system uses scanners to measure each object’s surface structure, shape, and material composition, and customers can “teach” it to recognize new materials by feeding it 200 samples. Its ability to learn by example provides flexibility in a rapidly changing sector, making waste separation much more efficient while working day and night.

The Recycler’s buyer, Carl F, is based in Malmö and appears dedicated to developing more sustainable practices, thus minimizing the footprint of its waste sorting processes. In 2013 the company mounted a wind turbine that generates power for the entire recycling station.  “We are constantly looking for more efficient practices and the ZenRobotics waste sorting system fits that scope perfectly. The standalone process allows us very efficient waste separation and the robots have been doing the night shift, too,” Carl Fredrik Jönsson, fourth generation in the family company, explains. According to Fredrik, the development has been slow in the waste industry and many seem to be content with the status quo. The company feels that there’s way too much incineration of waste in Sweden and they want to recover more recyclables that would otherwise go to waste. If their goals are met, the robotic sorting technology is expected to increase the recovery of recyclables by 12 000 tons (25%) annually.

ZenRobotics Recycler is the world’s first robotic waste sorting system. It enables flexible and automated waste sorting even for smaller scale operations. According to the company’s report, the system can be trained to recognize new fractions and therefore allows more optimized waste sorting as it can sort multiple fractions at the same time. This kind of flexibility has not been available in waste sorting before.

In a recent article, I have put five questions about Robotic Recycling. Another good question is whether artificial intelligence could be used to push up household recycling levels and stem the flow of domestic waste – including plastic packaging – to landfill, or into our waterways. Others have raised economic concerns around the use of recycling robots, which carry high upfront costs – ZenRobotics system, for example, costs €700,000-€800,000 (£600,000-£700,000) for a two-armed system. Domestic waste presents economic challenges, but the company’s scope for robotic systems is to ease the complexity of the process of the household collection while saving the local authorities’ expenses.

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