Can Waste Sorting Robots Boost Recycling Revenue?

The Waste Biz: Are Waste Sorting Robots The Answer To Recycling Industry Woes?

waste sorting workers

With low oil prices and other challenges, the recycling industry’s been having a tough year staying profitable. Ranier Renn, an executive with Finnish firm Zenrobotics, offers recyclers a way to cut costs: robots. Using smart machines for waste sorting, according to Renn, produces “significant cost savings generated by process efficiency and new revenue streams from high-purity recyclables that are now more diverse, thanks to unique recognition capabilities made possible by artificial intelligence.” In short, robots can sort a variety of materials effectively and efficiently…

Of course, like other forms of mechanical efficiency and automation, the robots for waste sorting that Renn describes (and which his company makes) will likely replace human sorters. That’s good for recyclers, but not so good for those seeking low-skill entry-level jobs in this industry. This does seem like a good means of maintaining single-stream recycling (which keeps rates higher) while, perhaps, getting more out of loads of materials.

What do you think? Are robots the way forward for recyclers? Are human sorters just too expensive? Share your thoughts and insights…

Also from the waste space this week:

Glass recycling can be profitable… with preparation: Waste Dive published a feature story this week on Ohio-based Rumpke’s success with glass recycling. While many are arguing that this materials just can’t work with current recycling practices, the company has invested $5 million in a new glass facility. According to Rumpke director of recycling Steve Sargent, working backwards from finding buyers to then investing in facilities and processes has made a difference for the company’s efforts to work with glass.

EPA recognizes wholesale club for efforts to fight food waste: You might think that businesses focused on selling food in bulk quantities might contribute to food waste. But, in at least one case, they’re helping solve the problem. The EPA has awarded a “Regional Food Recovery Achievement Certificate” to BJ’s Wholesale Club for its participation in the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at
  • Don

    So, I have had this discussion in my mind before. Not about robots but how to make recycling profitable. My idea is controversial and politically incorrect. Change our welfare system into a work system. Let that work be at the recycler. Single Moms can work there because some of the other single Moms on welfare are running a daycare at or near the plant. More people could be at the sorting lines, thus getting a better sort, because the wages paid by the plant would be very low…kind of like section 8 housing. In this case, the government pays the bulk of the wages through the welfare check and the employer pays the rest. This would also be a good training ground for the men and women on welfare to learn other skills. They could “graduate” from the sorting line to being supervisors. Those with the aptitude could be trained in accounting or driving the trucks or in maintenance. Gradually the shift in pay would go from government to employer as they became skilled. This is sustainable.
    Robots are expensive. Maintenance won’t be cheap and we all know software upgrades will be often and outrageously priced. Just ask anyone who has been in the IT industry.