The Robot Pioneering Carton Recycling
When you think of cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) technology, do you think about carton recycling? Thanks to a partnership between Carton Council, AMP Robotics, and Materials Recycling Facilities across the country, AI robots are transforming the carton recycling industry — making it more efficient than ever before. We had the chance to see the very first carton sorting robot firsthand at Alpine Altogether Recycling Facility in Denver, Colorado. Along for the tour was a passionate crew of social media influencers ready to spread the word about the importance of carton recycling and the innovation behind the scenes: @modhippiehabits, @neverskipbrunch, @muybuenocooking, @theroadwesttraveled, @chase_brody_mcnary and @noshandnourish.
Due to the increased scarcity of natural resources and impact of climate change, recycling is more important than ever. Innovations like the AI carton sorting robots are critical to enhancing the effectiveness of recycling sorting facilities in keeping as many recyclable materials out of landfills and ready to be transformed into new products. In the case of cartons, they can be recycled into new everyday paper products like tissue, writing paper, paper towels, or even building materials!
At Alpine, Wendy Fauth, Recyclable Materials Manager, shared her hope that the more people who understand and see the way we process these materials, the more probable it is that we will be able to operate in the most efficient, productive manner.
So how does the carton sorting robot named Clarke at Altogether work? AMP Robotics Founder Matanya Horowitz was there to explain it to us. The robot uses its computer brain, scanner eyes and lightning robot arm to recognize and pick cartons off the conveyor belt and toss them into a collection bin, all within seconds. The data collected on materials (what is and isn’t a carton) is uploaded into the cloud so that robots can share information across facilities and increase their learning over time. See Clarke in action above and check out its sibling Hot Dawg at Dem-Con in Minnesota below:
Now that you know about Clarke, here’s an overview of how the robot fits into the overall recycling process at a Material Recovery Facility like Altogether once your recycling is picked up from your home.
1.Single-stream sorting: All recyclable materials arrive in giant truck loads. They are then passed through a series of conveyor belts, optical sorters, and manual sorting that separate materials into four categories: fibers (paper, cartons, newspaper, cardboard boxes), plastic, metals and glass.
2.Fiber sorting: Next, fiber materials are sorted apart from each other manually while Clarke pulls cartons from the rest of the fibers and tosses them aside. FYI, it’s easiest for robots to detect cartons in their original 3D shape (if crushed they can be confused for paper) which is why it’s best not to crush your cartons before recycling them!
3.Baling: Lastly, all the sorted cartons are compressed into large blocks called bales. The bales are then sold to paper mills like Sustana’s Fox River Fiber Mill. The bales leave the mills as large sheets of fiber to be repurposed into new consumer paper products. A second option for bales of cartons is to be sold to Continuus Materials, where the entire carton is recycled into environmentally friendly building materials like this. Many of the end markets for used cartons are in the US, Mexico, South Korea and India.
After witnessing the sophisticated facilities and hardworking people that make recycling possible, we felt inspired and hopeful about the future of recycling, particularly carton recycling. Of course, this entire process is only possible when consumers like you take the first step by recycling correctly at home. Play your part by learning about the three easy steps to carton recycling here and staying up to date on your local recycling guidelines. Every little bit counts in keeping our planet alive for the future!